135 Amazing Facts for People Who Like Amazing Facts

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Store these away for future trivia nights.

1. Mister Rogers always mentioned out loud that he was feeding his fish because a young blind viewer once asked him to do so. She wanted to know the fish were OK.

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2. Boring, Oregon and Dull, Scotland have been sister cities since 2012. In 2017, they added Bland Shire, Australia to their "League of Extraordinary Communities."

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3. Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt once sneaked out of a White House event, commandeered an airplane, and went on a joyride to Baltimore.

Amelia Earhart
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4. If you have the feeling you’ve experienced an event before in real life, call it déjà vu. If you feel like you’ve previously experienced an event in a dream instead, there’s a different term for it: déjà rêvé.

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5. During Prohibition, moonshiners would wear "cow shoes." The fancy footwear left hoofprints instead of footprints, helping distillers and smugglers evade police.

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6. Since founding the Imagination Library in 1995, Dolly Parton has donated 100 million books to children.

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7. The 100 folds in a chef's toque are said to represent 100 ways to cook an egg.

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8. In curling, good sportsmanship and politeness are essential. Congratulating opponents and abstaining from trash talk are part of what's known as the "Spirit of Curling."

Throwing curling stone across the ice.
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9. In 1974, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis published a paper titled "The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of 'Writer's Block.'" It contained a total of zero words.

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10. Guinness estimates that 93,000 liters of beer are lost in facial hair each year in the UK alone.

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11. George Washington served an eggnog-like drink to visitors at Mount Vernon. His recipe included rye whiskey, rum, and sherry.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

12. Some cats are allergic to humans.

13. Queen Elizabeth II is a trained mechanic.

Queen Elizabeth II
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14. Volvo gave away the 1962 patent for their revolutionary three-point seat belt for free, in order to save lives.

Volvo logo
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15. Tsundoku is the act of acquiring books and not reading them.

16. Ravens in captivity can learn to talk better than parrots.

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17. Bela Lugosi was buried in full Dracula costume—cape and all.

18. Central Park's lampposts contain a set of four numbers that can help you navigate. The first two tell you the nearest street, and the next two tell you whether you're closer to the east or west side of the park (even numbers signal east, odd signals west).

Central Park
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19. A teacher wrote of a young Roald Dahl on his school report card: "I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended."

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20. The only Blockbuster store in the world that is still operating is in Bend, Oregon.

21. Blood donors in Sweden receive a thank you text when their blood is used.

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22. Kea parrots warble together when they're in a good mood, making them the first known non-mammal species to communicate with infectious laughter.

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23. Long before rap battles, there was "flyting": the exchange of witty, insulting verses. The verbal throwdowns were popular in England and Scotland from the 5th to 16th centuries.

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24. Melbourne gave some of its trees email addresses so residents could report problems. Instead, the trees received love letters.

Trees
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25. An estimated 1 million dogs in the U.S. have been named primary beneficiary in their owners' wills.

Captain dog
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26. At Petrified Forest National Park, visitors sometimes break the rules (and the law) by taking rocks home with them. According to rangers, they often end up returning the stolen goods in the mail—along with an apology note.

Petrified Forest National Park
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27. The Russians showed up 12 days late to the 1908 Olympics in London because they were using the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar.

Olympic Rings
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28. Maya Angelou was the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

Maya Angelou
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29. In Japan, letting a sumo wrestler make your baby cry is considered good luck.

Sumo wrestlers making babies cry (for luck!)
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30. J.K. Simmons has been the voice of the Yellow Peanut M&M since the late 1990s.

J.K. Simmons
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31. Count von Count's love of numbers isn't just a quirky character trait—in traditional vampire folklore, the bloodsuckers have arithmomania, a compulsion to count.

Count von Count
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32. In Great Britain and Japan, black cats are perceived as auspicious. In the English Midlands, new brides are given black cats to bless their marriage, and the Japanese believe that black cats are good luck—particularly for single women.

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33. Portland was named by a coin flip. Had the coin landed the other way, the city would be Boston, Oregon.

Portland, Oregon
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34. During World War I, a Canadian soldier made a black bear his pet and named her Winnipeg. “Winnie” was later a resident of the London Zoological Gardens where she was an adored attraction, especially to a boy named Christopher Robin, son of author A.A. Milne. The boy even named his teddy bear after her.

Christopher Robin Milne
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35. Sleep literally cleans your brain. During slumber, more cerebrospinal fluid flushes through the brain to wash away harmful proteins and toxins that build up during the day.

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36. Neil Armstrong's astronaut application arrived a week past the deadline. A friend slipped the tardy form in with the others.

37. Due to the restaurant's reputation for staying open in extreme weather, the so-called “Waffle House Index” is informally used by FEMA to gauge storm severity.

Waffle House
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38. The first sales pitch for the Nerf ball was “Nerf: You can’t hurt babies or old people!”

Nerf
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39. The manchineel tree is nicknamed the "Tree of Death" for good reason: Touching it can leave chemical burns on your skin, its fruit is toxic, and its bark—when burned—can cause blindness.

Manchineel Tree, Mustique
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40. If drivers adhere to the 45 mph speed limit on a stretch of Route 66 in New Mexico, the road's rumble strips will play a rendition of "America the Beautiful."

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41. Russian cosmonauts used to pack a shotgun in case they landed in Siberia and had to fend off bears.

Siberia
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42. Space has a distinct smell: a bouquet of diesel fumes, gunpowder, and barbecue. The aroma is mostly produced by dying stars.

Space
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43. Before settling on the Seven Dwarfs we know today, Disney considered Chesty, Tubby, Burpy, Deafy, Hickey, Wheezy, and Awful.

Seven Dwarfs
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44. The annual number of worldwide shark bites is 10 times less than the number of people bitten by other people in New York.

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45. In 1997 a Louisville woman left actor Charles Bronson all of her money in a handwritten will—a total of about $300,000. She'd never met him; she was just a fan.

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46. Carly Simon's dad is the Simon of Simon and Schuster. He co-founded the company.

Carly Simon
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47. Ben & Jerry learned how to make ice cream by taking a $5 correspondence course offered by Penn State. (They decided to split one course.)

Ben & Jerry
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48. After an online vote in 2011, Toyota announced that the official plural of Prius was Prii.

Prii
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49. At the 1905 wedding of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, President Teddy Roosevelt gave away the bride.

Teddy Roosevelt
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50. Tootsie Rolls were added to soldiers' rations in World War II for their durability in all weather conditions.

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51. When Canada's Northwest Territories considered renaming itself in the 1990s, one name that gained support was "Bob."

Skyline, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada
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52. After OutKast sang "Shake it like a Polaroid picture," Polaroid released a statement: "Shaking or waving can actually damage the image."

Polaroid
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53. Marie Curie remains the only person to earn Nobel prizes in two different sciences.

Marie Curie
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54. The Starry Night depicts Vincent van Gogh's view from the Saint-Paul de Mausole asylum.

Starry Night
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55. The ampersand symbol is formed from the letters in et—the Latin word for "and."

Ampersand
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56. Army ants that misinterpret the scent trails left by other ants will sometimes break from the crowd and march in circles. If enough ants join, they can form massive "death spirals."

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57. A solar eclipse helped end a six-year war in 585 BCE. When the sky suddenly darkened during a battle between the Lydians and the Medes in modern Turkey, soldiers took it as a sign to cease fighting.

Solar Eclipse 2017
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58. Wendy's founder Dave Thomas dropped out of high school but earned his GED in 1993. His GED class voted him Most Likely to Succeed.

Dave Thomas
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59. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826—exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Declaration of Independence
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60. Dogs are capable of understanding up to 250 words and gestures. The average dog is as intelligent as a two-year-old child.

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61. Bubbles keep your bath water warmer longer.

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62. Scientists have found evidence of take-out restaurants in the remains of Pompeii.

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63. Fried chicken was brought to America by Scottish immigrants.

Fried chicken
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64. Peter Durand patented the tin can in 1810. Ezra Warner patented a can opener in 1858. In between, people used chisels and hammers.

Can opener
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65. There are 71 streets in Atlanta with "Peachtree" in their name.

Peachtree Street
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66. Goats have rectangular pupils.

Goat eyes
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67. The bend in a flamingo's leg isn't a knee—it's an ankle.

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68. In 1946, Boston owner Walter Brown chose the nickname Celtics over Whirlwinds, Olympians, and Unicorns.

Kyrie Irving
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69. After It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown aired, Charles Schulz was overwhelmed with candy shipments sent from kids who were concerned for Charlie, who got rocks instead of treats in his Halloween sack.

Charlie Brown and Snoopy
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70. One of the world's largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons—a U.S. Navy base near Seattle—is partially defended by trained dolphins.

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71. It's illegal for supermarkets in France to waste food. Supermarkets must either compost it or donate unsold or nearly expired goods to charity.

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72. Fredric Baur invented the Pringles can. When he passed away in 2008, his ashes were buried in one.

Pringles
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73. A new baby can cost new parents 750 hours of sleep in the first year.

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74. In 1965, a Senate subcommittee predicted that by 2000, Americans would only be working 20 hours a week with seven weeks vacation.

Cheers
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75. For one day in 1998, Topeka, Kansas, renamed itself "ToPikachu" to mark Pokemon's U.S. debut.

Pikachu
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76. Truman Capote said he was the only person who'd met John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Sirhan Sirhan.

Truman Capote
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77. Susan B. Anthony was fined $100 for voting in the 1872 election. She never paid the fine.

Susan B. Anthony
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78. Canned pumpkin isn't actually pumpkin. Even purees that advertise as "100 percent pumpkin" are actually made of a range of different winter squashes.

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79. When Gene Wilder accepted the role of Willy Wonka, he had one condition: In his first appearance, Wilder wanted Wonka to limp toward the crowd with a cane in hand before falling into a perfect somersault and jumping back up. The reason? “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

Willy Wonka
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80. Dr. Seuss said he expected to spend "a week or so" writing The Cat in the Hat. It actually took a year and a half.

Dr. Seuss / Hollywood Walk of Fame
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81. The Reese in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups is Harry Burnett Reese, a former Hershey employee who created his famous candy in the 1920s.

Reese's
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82. The plural of cul-de-sac is culs-de-sac.

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83. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt was allergic to moon dust.

Harrison Schmitt
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84. At the Gettysburg reunion in 1913, two men purchased a hatchet, walked to the site where their regiments had fought, and buried it.

Gettysburg at 50
Library of Congress

85. "Bloodcurdling" isn't just an expression: Research shows that watching horror movies can increase a certain clotting protein in our bloodstreams.

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86. An episode of Peppa Pig was pulled from Australian television for teaching children not to fear spiders.

Peppa Pig
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87. A group of pugs is called a grumble.

Grumble of pugs
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88. Before he wrote Goosebumps, R.L. Stine wrote the jokes for Bazooka Joe wrappers.

R.L. Stine
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89. In 1998, the U.S. Army tried developing a telepathic ray gun "where words could be transmitted to be heard like the spoken word, except that it could only be heard within a person’s head."

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90. In 1967, the Nigerian Civil War ground to a halt for two days because both sides wanted to watch Pelé play in an exhibition soccer match.

Pele
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91. Winston Churchill's mother was born in Brooklyn.

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92. Jim Cummings is the voice of Winnie the Pooh. He calls sick kids in hospitals and chats with them in character.

Jim Cummings
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93. Before Google launched Gmail, "G-Mail" was the name of a free email service offered by Garfield's website.

Garfield looming
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94. Before the Nazis invaded Paris, H.A. and Margret Rey fled on bicycles. They were carrying the manuscript for Curious George.

Curious George
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95. In colonial America, lobster wasn't exactly a delicacy. It was so cheap and plentiful it was often served to prisoners.

Lobster
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96. Crayola means "oily chalk." The name combines craie (French for "chalk") and ola (short for "oleaginous," or "oily").

Oily chalk
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97. Truman Show Delusion is a mental condition marked by a patient's belief that he or she is the star of an imaginary reality show.

Truman Show
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98. Cookie Monster is not changing his name. In a 2012 episode he said, "We've got to stop this Veggie Monster rumor before me reputation ruined."

Cookie Monster and Elmo
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99. Google's founders were willing to sell to Excite for under $1 million in 1999—but Excite turned them down.

Excite@Home
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100. The medical term for ice cream headaches is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.

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101. Although Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, he’s the only Kansas Jayhawks basketball coach with a losing record.

Kansas Jayhawks
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102. Wisconsin is the Badger State because the area's lead miners used to spend winters in tunnels burrowed into hills. Like badgers.

Badger
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103. In 1999, the U.S. government paid the Zapruder family $16 million for the film of JFK's assassination.

JFK in Dallas
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104. Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln was wrestling champion of his county. He fought in nearly 300 matches and lost only one.

Young Lincoln
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105. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know. But on average, a Licking Machine made at Purdue needed 364.

Tootsie Pops
Mental Floss

106. Barcelona is home to hundreds of playgrounds for seniors. The spaces are meant to promote fitness and combat loneliness in elderly citizens.

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107. In Switzerland, it's illegal to own only one guinea pig.

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108. After leaving office, Ronald Reagan was offered the role of Hill Valley's mayor in Back to the Future III.

President Reagan waves goodbye
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109. Foreign Accent Syndrome is a rare side effect of brain trauma. Patients speak their native language in a foreign accent.

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110. Queen Elizabeth II has had over 30 corgis in her lifetime.

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111. Relative to their bodies, Chihuahuas have the biggest brain in the dog world.

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112. The "mystery" flavor of Dum Dums is a combination of the end of one batch of candy and the beginning of another.

Dum Dums Mystery Flavor
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113. A banana is a berry.

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114. In 1971, a Dallas man named Mariano Martinez invented the frozen margarita machine. The 26-year-old was inspired by the Slurpee machine at 7-Eleven.

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115. In 2016, a rogue bloodhound named Ludvine joined a half-marathon in Alabama. She ran the entire 13.1 miles and finished in 7th place.

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116. The Library of Congress regularly receives requests for books that don't exist. The most common is the President's Book of Secrets, from the 2007 movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

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117. In 2014, Tinder made its first match on the continent of Antarctica. Not surprisingly, both parties involved were research scientists.

Antarctica
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118. When times get tough, elephants will comfort each other by stroking loved ones with their trunks and emitting small chirps.

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119. A double rainbow occurs when sunlight is reflected twice inside a raindrop. If you look closely, you can see that the colors of the secondary rainbow appear in reverse order.

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120. There's a Nikola Tesla statue in Palo Alto that provides free Wi-Fi.

Nikola Tesla statue
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121. The Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships are held in Finland. One winner (not pictured) said he prepared for the event by "mainly drinking."

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122. In the '50s, Marilyn Monroe promised nightclub owner Charlie Morrison she'd be in the front row every night if he booked Ella Fitzgerald. He agreed, and she was true to her word. "After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again," Fitzgerald said. "She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn't know it."

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123. Frank Sinatra has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for film, one for music, and one for television.

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124. One April day in 1930, the BBC reported, "There is no news." Instead they played piano music.

There is no news
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125. Continental plates drift as fast as fingernails grow.

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126. Elvis Presley's manager sold "I Hate Elvis" badges as a way to make money off of people who weren't buying his merchandise.

I Hate Elvis
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127. LEGO has a temperature-controlled underground vault in Denmark with nearly every set they've ever made.

Lego
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

128. A reindeer's eyes change color through the seasons. They’re gold during the summer and blue in the winter.

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129. An avocado never ripens on the tree, so farmers can use trees as storage and keep avocados fresh for up to seven months.

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130. At the Humane Society of Missouri, kid volunteers comfort anxious shelter dogs by reading to them.

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131. In The Empire Strikes Back, an extra can be seen running with what appears to be an ice cream maker. The character became legendary among fans, and was eventually given a name (Willrow Hood) and a backstory.

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132. Salvador Dali avoided paying restaurant tabs by using checks. He would draw on the back as the waiter watched, knowing no one would ever cash the art.

Wikimedia Commons

133. China owns all of the pandas in the world. They rent them out for about $1 million a year.

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134. In season two of The Joy of Painting, Bob Ross created a monochromatic landscape for a viewer who was worried that his color blindness would prevent him from being able to paint.

Bob Ross
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135. Bones found at Seymour Island indicate that at one time, 37 to 40 million years ago, penguins stood at a formidable 6 feet tall and weighed 250 pounds.

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The Mysterious Deaths of 6 Historical Figures

A portrait of Napoleon by Antoine-Jean Gros
A portrait of Napoleon by Antoine-Jean Gros
Photos.com via Getty Images

You might think that dying while famous means a well-documented death proceeding from an obvious cause, but nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout history, notable figures have spent their final hours in situations clouded with uncertainty, rumor, and suspicion. Whether the deceased is an ancient emperor or a modern aviator, the potential culprit arsenic or a faulty radio, the circumstances surrounding these six strange historical deaths may never be fully understood.

1. Napoleon Bonaparte // May 5, 1821

On the surface, Napoleon's end seems clear-cut: His death certificate listed stomach cancer as the cause of his demise. During the last weeks of his life in exile on the remote island of St. Helena, the former emperor of France had been complaining of stomach ailments, including pain and nausea, but Napoleon himself hinted something much darker than cancer was at work. In a will written three weeks before he died, he said: "I die before my time, murdered by the English oligarchy and its assassin."

There has been some potential evidence to support his poisoning theory. In 1840, when Napoleon's corpse was exhumed in St. Helena for a more dignified reburial in Paris, the body was reported to be in remarkably good condition. Some scientists have theorized that this could have been a side effect of arsenic exposure, which they argue could have had a preservative effect. In 1961, tests on samples of Napoleon's hair did find elevated levels of arsenic, leading to a few decades of fevered speculation about a potential arsenic poisoning. However, a 2008 analysis of hairs taken at four periods of Napoleon's life showed arsenic levels consistent throughout that time, as well as levels consistent with hairs taken from his son and wife.

If that makes it sound like everyone in the 19th century was being slowly poisoned with arsenic, that's because they sort of were. Back then, the stuff didn't need to be administered with malevolent intent to get into your system. Not only was it a common component of weed killers and rat poison, but it was often added to beauty products and medicinal tonics. It was also part of a popular green pigment used in paintings, fabrics, and wallpaper—including the wallpaper in the house where Napoleon died. (A sample nicked by a visitor in the 1820s survived for decades in a scrapbook and tested positive for arsenic in the 1990s.)

In addition to arsenic, Napoleon had been exposed to a number of other toxic substances as part of questionable medical treatments. His doctors were giving him tartar emetic (antimony potassium tartrate, which is poisonous) for his gastrointestinal issues, and two days before he died, Napoleon received a large dose of calomel (mercurous chloride) as a purgative. The stew of dubious chemicals in his system led an international team of toxicologists and pathologists to conclude in 2004 that Napoleon's death was a case of “medical misadventure,” in which the drugs he'd been exposed to, combined with his already weak health, led to a disturbance of his heart's rhythm that ultimately produced his death.

That doesn't mean the stomach cancer idea has been put to rest, however. In 2007, a study based on the autopsy reports and memoirs from Napoleon's physician as well as other documentation compared descriptions of the lesions found in Napoleon's stomach during his autopsy with modern images of benign and cancerous gastric lesions. The paper concluded that the dead emperor's lesions were most likely cancer, which had spread to other organs. The cancer was likely a result of Helicobacter pylori, bacteria that damages stomach lining; the salt-preserved foods Napoleon consumed on his extended military campaigns may have also contributed. In truth, it's highly possible that a number of factors contributed to Napoleon's death, with or without the interference of the English.

2. Amelia Earhart // July 2, 1937 (Disappeared)

Amelia Earhart with her navigator, Fred Noonan, in the hangar at Parnamerim airfield, Natal, Brazil, on June 11, 1937, before departing for their round-the-world flight
Amelia Earhart with her navigator, Fred Noonan, in Brazil, on June 11, 1937, before departing for their round-the-world flight
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Amelia Earhart is probably best known for two things: becoming the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic in 1932, and disappearing five years later.

On July 2, 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were on one of the last and most difficult legs of their attempt at a round-the-world flight—a nonstop trip from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island in the South Pacific, where the pair planned to refuel before continuing to Hawaii. Around 6 a.m. that day, her plane radioed the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, which was anchored off Howland to provide them with guidance. But there were communication troubles: The ship was using bandwidths Earhart wasn't able to receive, and some key radio equipment on the Itasca had run out of batteries. For hours, the ship transmitted messages Earhart couldn't hear, and her messages back to them were worrying—she mentioned running low on fuel, and not being able to see land. By 8:45 a.m., ship and plane had lost contact.

Despite an extensive air and sea search by the Itasca and the U.S. government, neither Earhart nor Noonan were ever heard from again. The official explanation is that Earhart's plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific, but since no one is certain where the plane went down, finding the wreckage has proved difficult. However, some researchers think Earhart and Noonan may have briefly survived as castaways on a nearby island before eventually succumbing to the elements.

The castaway theory has gained acceptance in part because of efforts by a nonprofit called the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). Its executive director, Richard Gillespie, believes that Earhart and Noonan ended up on Nikumaroro, about 350 nautical miles southeast of Howland, in the Republic of Kiribati. The island's location fits the line of flight that Earhart identified in her last radio message, and researchers think they've uncovered photographs that show landing gear amid the coral reefs, as well as distress calls from the castaways. Several TIGHAR expeditions to the island have also uncovered plexiglass and aluminum fragments that could be part of Earhart's plane, plus pieces of what may be a jar of freckle cream and leather shoe parts that could have belonged to a woman [PDF].

To make matters even weirder, the castaway speculations also involve a skull and other bones found on Nikumaroro in 1940, which have since been lost. Initial analysis said the bones belonged to an elderly man, but more recently TIGHAR announced that a new analysis showed they likely belonged to a woman around their same height as Earhart and most likely European. However, in 2015 forensic researchers questioned TIGHAR's conclusions. Since the skeleton is both missing and incomplete, the matter seems unlikely to be resolved soon. Nevertheless, in July 2019 marine geologist Robert Ballard—the man who found the Titanic wreck in 1985—announced that he would make an expedition to Nikumaroro to search for clues both on the island and offshore, as part of a National Geographic special called Expedition Amelia airing in October.

If the castaway theory seems unlikely, it's far from the most bizarre in circulation. Some allege that Earhart was captured by the Japanese after her plane was crashed (or deliberately shot down), and then held captive—some even say because she was a spy hired by the Roosevelt administration to keep tabs on Japanese military installations in the Marshall Islands. In this version of events, her disappearance was part of a cover-up by the U.S. government, and Earhart was supposedly freed in 1945, after which she lived out the rest of her days under a different name as a banker in New Jersey.

3. Edgar Allan Poe // October 7, 1849

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Photos.com via Getty Images

In 1849, Edgar Allan Poe disappeared for six days. When he turned up on October 3, near a pub in Baltimore, he was slurring his speech and wearing someone else's suit. A good samaritan noticed Poe acting oddly and sought help, summoning a friend of the writer's to the tavern. But by the time the friend arrived, Poe was delirious and had to be taken to the hospital. He lingered there for a few more days, wracked by a fever and hallucinations, and occasionally calling out the name Reynolds. When the attending physician, Dr. John J. Moran, tried to ask Poe what had happened before he got to the tavern, Poe’s “answers were incoherent and unsatisfactory," Moran later wrote. Four days after having mysteriously arrived in Baltimore, Poe just as mysteriously died.

The official cause of Poe's death is sometimes listed as phrenitis, or inflammation of the brain, but there was never any autopsy, and the medical records have disappeared. Newspapers of the day tied Poe's death to his drinking habits, but postmortem hair analysis has shown no trace of the lead commonly added to wine in the 19th century, suggesting that Poe was probably steering clear of drink at the end of his life (indeed, he had sworn to a new fiancée to give it up). A 1996 article in the Maryland Medical Journal blamed rabies, arguing that Poe suffered classic symptoms of the disease: tremors and hallucinations, a coma, and delirium that made him combative. Yet other accounts have posited the flu, a brain tumor, syphilis, or some kind of poisoning—even murder at the hands of his fiancée's brothers, who allegedly opposed his impending marriage.

Yet one of the more accepted explanations concerns a vicious type of voter fraud known as cooping. In 19th-century America, it was not unusual for gangs to kidnap men and force them to vote multiple times for one candidate, wearing different clothes each time as a disguise. The location where Poe was found on October 3 lends weight to the theory: The pub, Gunner's Hall, was then serving as a polling station in the 1849 Congressional elections. Voters at the time were also given alcohol in reward for doing their civic duty, which would explain Poe's drunkenness; the stranger's cheap suit could have been a disguise provided by a gang. Poe reportedly reacted badly to alcohol, so if he was dragged to multiple polling places and fed liquor each time, not to mention beaten as cooping victims often were, the combination may have been too much for him. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, however, points out one flaw in this theory: Poe was "reasonably well-known in Baltimore and likely to be recognized"—even in someone else's soiled clothes. We may never know the full story behind Poe's death, which seems not inappropriate for the master of the macabre.

4. Alexander the Great // June 323 BCE

One of the most powerful conquerors the world has ever known, Alexander the Great claimed to be a son of the gods. Unfortunately, he was mortal, and died a few months short of his 33rd birthday. His final illness began during a feast at a commander's house in the summer of 323 BCE, when he is said to have developed a high fever and abdominal pain. For a few days he bathed, slept, and sacrificed, but then the fever grew worse. By the fourth day, he was losing strength, and by the seventh, couldn't get out of bed. His powers of speech failed, and when his troops asked to see him on the 10th day of his illness, he could do little but follow them with his eyes. On the 11th day, he died. It's said that when the embalmers began work on Alexander's corpse, after being delayed for six days, they found the body fresh and uncorrupted—a remarkable event given the summer heat.

Alexander the Great was just one of the famous historical figures considered during the annual Historical Clinicopathological Conference at the University of Maryland, in which medical experts convene to take a fresh look at the final days of famous dead folks. Philip A. Mackowiak, a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is both the director of the conference (which considered Alexander's death in 1996) and the author of the book Post Mortem: Solving History's Great Medical Mysteries. In Post Mortem, he explains that attempts to understand Alexander's death are complicated by the fact that no contemporary accounts of the events survive, and the descriptions we have are secondary accounts written several centuries later. Furthermore, these descriptions conflict: Plutarch, writing in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, says that Alexander didn't have any pain, and that other accounts added that symptom to make Alexander's death seem as moving as possible. But other ancient sources maintain that Alexander did experience significant pain, which started right after he downed a massive goblet of wine, leading some—notably the Roman historian Justin—to suggest that Alexander was poisoned.

Alexander had made many enemies, not the least with his whole "I am the son of the gods" thing. Mackowiak writes that Alexander also offended his fellow Macedonians by dressing like the vanquished Persians, and the latest military campaign he was planning—through the Horn of Arabia and North Africa—"must have been greeted with alarm by his exhausted army." When it comes to who dared to poison the great Alexander, Mackowiak notes that some suspect Antipater, an ambitious Macedonian regent, or even at the philosopher Aristotle, who had once tutored Alexander the Great—and apparently feared for his life after a relative was embroiled in an assassination plot. Once again, arsenic has been mentioned as a possible culprit; Mackowiak writes that it's known to cause abdominal pain and progressive weakness, and in some forms is water-soluble as well as practically tasteless, making it easy to hide in wine or food. Fever, however, is not usually a sign of arsenic poisoning, and most historians doubt that arsenic was used as a poison in that time period.

A tropical illness seems more likely. According to Mackowiak, an especially malignant type of malaria caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite could have caused Alexander's fever, weakness, stomach pain, and death, but not his loss of speech, or the daisy-fresh look of his corpse. Others have suggested West Nile virus encephalitis, which can produce paralysis, but is not usually fatal. In Post Mortem, Mackowiak suggests typhoid fever with ascending paralysis as the most likely killer. Before the importance of clean water and sanitary sewage systems were well understood, typhoid was a scourge, as food and drink often became contaminated with feces carrying Salmonella typhi, the typhoid-causing bacteria. Typhoid usually involves a gradually increasing fever and weakness, abdominal pain, and other awful symptoms, but in rare cases, it's accompanied by an ascending paralysis that begins with the legs and moves up to the brain. Known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, it's almost always fatal when due to typhoid. Mackowiak suggests that if Alexander suffered from Guillain-Barré, the paralysis would have caused him to lose his power to speak once it reached his higher nerve centers. Disturbingly, Mackowiak also suggests that the paralysis could also have caused the fresh look of Alexander's corpse—because he might not have been dead all that long when they arrived, and merely paralyzed. In that case, it's a good thing the embalmers were delayed.

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart // December 5, 1791

Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart circa 1789
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart circa 1789
Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Was Mozart's death caused by a pork chop, a sexually transmitted disease, poisoning by a jealous rival—or none of the above?

The famed composer first began showing signs of his final illness in the fall of 1791. Overworked, underfunded, and depressed, he was working on the Requiem commissioned by a mysterious benefactor that July when he began having what some have described as stomach and joint pain. By November 20, he took to his bed. His body began to swell badly, and emit a foul odor; his wife and sister-in-law made him a special garment with an opening at the back just so he'd be easier to change. By the evening of December 4, he was starting to show signs of delirium. His doctor was summoned, and when he arrived bled Mozart (standard practice for just about any ailment back then) and applied a cold poultice to his forehead. The composer fell unconscious, and died five minutes before one in the morning on December 5. He was 35. The last sounds he ever made were an attempt to mimic one of the drum parts from his unfinished Requiem.

The official diagnosis was acute miliary fever (miliary refers to a rash with spots the size of millet seeds). But within a week, a Berlin newspaper reported that Mozart might have been poisoned. In fact, Mozart's wife said that her husband had lamented months before his death, "I know I must die, someone has given me acqua toffana [a compound of arsenic and other toxins] and has calculated the precise time of my death, for which they have ordered a requiem, it is [for] myself I am writing this."

The main culprit in the supposed poisoning scheme is often said to be the composer Antonio Salieri, one of Mozart's rivals. Though the theory faded after Mozart's death, it resurfaced with new energy in the 20th century thanks to Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play Amadeus and the 1984 film adaptation. In some versions of the tale, Salieri is said to have commissioned the Requiem himself, with plans to pass it off as his own after murdering Mozart. But Salieri strongly denied any involvement, telling a pupil of Beethoven's who visited his deathbed, "I can assure you on my word of honor that there is no truth in that absurd rumor; you know that I was supposed to have poisoned Mozart." Others have accused the Freemasons, who supposedly poisoned Mozart—one of their own—because he revealed their secret symbolism in his opera The Magic Flute.

Mackowiak, however, considers a Masonic involvement unlikely, in part because others involved in The Magic Flute lived for decades, and because Mozart's lodge held a ceremony for him after his death and supported his widow. Furthermore, the most likely poisons in use at the time wouldn't have caused the kind of severe, general swelling Mozart experienced, which is known as anasarca.

Others have suggested syphilis, which was an epidemic in Mozart's day, and sometimes included a low-grade fever and rash. That disease also attacks the kidneys, and was frequently treated with mercury, which would have led to further kidney deterioration and could have caused anasarca. But Mozart was a workaholic who had no time to play around, and by all accounts loved his wife Constanze dearly. According to Mackowiak, there's no credible evidence either partner ever had an affair. A less-salacious theory argues that Mozart was killed by an undercooked pork cutlet, or more specifically, trichinosis. It's known that Mozart consumed a pork meal shortly before falling ill. But trichinosis—which comes from the parasite Trichinella—usually causes muscle pain, which Mackowiak thinks family members would have remembered and included in their descriptions of the composer's last days.

Whatever the illness, Mozart wasn't the only one in Vienna to suffer it—Mackowiak notes that there was a cluster of similar cases at the time. One plausible diagnosis, Mackowiak and other researchers argue, is post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, an inflammatory disorder of the glomeruli (a network of capillaries in the kidneys) that follows infection with the Streptocococcus bacteria. It can appear as part of an epidemic, and cause the kind of swelling Mozart suffered from. While not normally fatal with the more common Strep bacteria (the type that causes Strep throat), glomerulonephritis that follows infections with Streptococcus equi—which normally affects horses, and sometimes cows—can cause kidney failure and death. Humans often get it from consuming milk or milk products from infected cows, which explains the epidemic nature. Kidney failure would also explain Mozart's stench, likely caused by the waste products that build up in the blood, sweat, and saliva when kidneys stop working. Sadly, since both medical records and Mozart's skeleton (well, most of it, probably) have been lost, it's once again likely that a full understanding of Mozart's death will remain forever out of reach.

6. Christopher Marlowe // May 30, 1593

The maverick English poet, playwright, and spy Christopher "Kit" Marlowe is said to have been murdered at age 29 after a day of eating and drinking with some friends at a dining house. According to the coroner's report, when the time came to pay the tab, a fight broke out between Marlowe and one of the men present, Ingram Frizer, over who would foot the bill. "Divers malicious words" were spoken, and as things got heated, Marlowe grabbed Frizer's dagger, wounding him twice on the head. Frizer then grabbed it back, stabbing Marlowe over the eye and killing him instantly.

That's been the story around Marlowe's death for years, but the tale has long seemed suspicious. In fact, one of the most dangerous things about Marlowe might not have been his spying, his street brawls, or his reputed affairs with men. It might have been his religious beliefs—or the lack thereof. Shortly before his death, a warrant had been issued for Marlowe's arrest on charges of atheism, after a former roommate and fellow playwright claimed under torture that heretical papers found in his own room belonged to Marlowe. Some, such as Stanford University's David Riggs, say that Frizer wasn't motivated by rage over any bill, and the real force behind the dagger was Queen Elizabeth I, who was angry enough about his heretical religious beliefs that she ordered his murder. Those who believe this theory note that Elizabeth pardoned Frizer just one month after Marlowe's death.

That's just one of the many theories surrounding Marlowe's untimely end. Others say he ran afoul of powerful members of the Elizabethan spy world. M.J. Trow, author of Who Killed Kit Marlowe?: A Contract to Murder in Elizabethan England, thinks that Marlowe used his play Edward II to hint that four members of the Queen's Privy Council (her top advisors) were atheists too. Trow maintains that the council members decided to silence Marlowe by ordering a hit, and that they promised his friends at the dining house immunity. In fact, Trow told The Guardian, " all were cleared after a short trial and granted titles and positions of wealth and influence shortly afterwards."

Frizer and friends aren't the only ones who have been suspected in Kit's murder, though. Some think Sir Walter Raleigh, having heard of Marlowe's arrest, grew worried about what might come out at his trial and ordered him killed rather than be incriminated as a free-thinking associate. Another theory points the finger at Audrey Walsingham, whose husband employed Marlowe, and who was apparently jealous of their (possibly sexual) relationship. Others, of course, think Marlowe faked his own death to get out of trouble—then continued to write plays from a secure location and send them back to England, possibly with Walsingham's assistance. The person who got credit for those new creations? William Shakespeare, of course.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Dorothy Parker

Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images
Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images

As a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table—a circle of writers that also included Harpo Marx and Robert Benchley—Dorothy Parker was renowned for her scathing wit. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the legendary wordsmith.

1. Dorothy Parker was born in New Jersey.

Dorothy Parker was born at her parents' beach cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey on August 22, 1893. She liked to say they rushed back to Manhattan after Labor Day so she could be a "true" New Yorker.

2. Dorothy Parker's mother died when she was just a child.

Parker's mother died when Dorothy was just four years old. Her father remarried two years later, but Dorothy was not a fan of her stepmother and refused to call her anything but "the housekeeper." Ouch.

3. Dorothy Parker married the same man twice.

Parker and Alan Campbell were great writing partners, but were perhaps no more than that; she often (affectionately) described him as "queer as a billy goat."

4. Dorothy Parker could be sentimental when a job called for it.

You know Parker came up with plenty of sarcastic quips and biting observations, but she also wrote some rather treacly stuff: She was an uncredited screenwriter for It's a Wonderful Life and wrote lyrics for the Bing Crosby song "I Wished on the Moon."

5. Dorothy Parker's uncle was on the Titanic.

Parker's uncle, Martin Rothschild, died in the great Titanic disaster of 1912.

6. Dorothy Parker reviewed books for The New Yorker.

Parker wrote book reviews for The New Yorker under the pseudonym "Constant Reader." She hated Winnie the Pooh and wrote of The House on Pooh Corner, "Tonstant Weader Fwowed up."

7. Dorothy Parker was tiny.

Parker might have been an enormous presence, but she was only 4'11".

8. Dorothy Parker was a staunch civil rights activist.

When Parker died in 1967, she left her entire estate to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation, and then to the NAACP when King was assassinated.

9. Dorothy Parker's ashes went unclaimed for years.

While she left her money to the causes she cared about, Parker left her ashes to playwright Lillian Hellman, who never bothered to collect them. They went unclaimed for years and were passed around rather unceremoniously, spending about 17 years in her lawyer's filing cabinet. The NAACP finally claimed what was left of Ms. Parker and erected a memorial garden in her honor. You can visit her there and read what she suggested for her own epitaph: "Excuse my dust."

10. There is no shortage of great Dorothy Parker quotes.

But as a writer, I think this one might be my favorite: "I'd like to have money. And I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have money."

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