CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

15 Super-Manly Facts About Vladimir Putin

Original image
Getty Images

Fifteen years ago today, Russia’s very own Macho Man Vladimir Putin was elected president. Since he stepped into the spotlight, he’s worked hard to cultivate a certain image for himself, engaging in only the manliest of activities—that means no dad dancing—usually while his adoring subjects and/or cameras look on.

It was hard to narrow them down, but in honor of Putin's decade and a half in power, here are 15 of his most impressive, totally-not-staged feats of strength and masculinity.

1. He once captured a 46-pound pike.

During a 2013 fishing trip in Siberia, he reportedly caught a pike weighing 46 pounds, which would make his catch one of the world’s biggest. (Anglers argued that the real weight of the fish was probably half that.)

2. He's a regular Indiana Jones.

Budding archaeologist and scholar Putin allegedly discovered some ancient Greek urns while diving in the Black Sea in 2011. (Sadly, this claim was later rowed back; Putin’s spokesman admitted that the urns were planted for Putin to uncover.)

3. He tracks polar bears …

Putin is eager to help out in the rescuing and preservation of endangered species. That’s probably why he was pictured attaching a satellite tracking device to a polar bear’s neck in April 2010.

4. ... And shoots whales with crossbows—for science!

Putin took aim at a gray whale while hanging out with some marine biologists back in 2010. The hope was that, by temporarily immobilizing the whale, the scientists could collect skin samples for their study of the species. Putin’s aim was just about perfect: “I hit it at the fourth try,” he told reporters.

5. He frees caged wildcats …

A champion of creatures great and small, Putin oversees research programs on a number of different mammals. In May 2010, he symbolically released a west Asian leopard from its cage into an outdoor enclosure in a wildlife sanctuary near Sochi. Some naysayers claimed the animal was injured during the photo op, which Putin's spokesman denied. 

6. ... But also keeps them in line.

In 2008, he intervened when a Siberian tigress tried to attack a camera crew following him at the region's Ussuri wildlife reserve.

7. He soars like an eagle.

Putin once took to the skies in this contraption, in order to accompany Siberian white cranes on their migratory route to Asia. Some cameramen just happened to be there to capture the occasion for posterity.

8. He hangs out in shipwrecks.

In 2013, Putin entered a submersible and sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Finland, some 200 feet underwater, just to check out a 140-year-old shipwreck.

9. He's really good at hockey.

Really good. He was even able to score a goal against a keeper for Russia's national team! (That guy was definitely playing his hardest.)

10. He's mastered two martial arts.

Who can forget the 82-minute classic, Let’s Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin? As part of his KGB/FSB training, Putin also picked up sambo, the Russian martial art. So skilled is Putin in judo that in November 2012 the International Judo Federation granted him a high-ranking 8th Dan, one of the highest grades possible.

11. Accomplished outdoorsmen respect him.

The Kremlin website has a whole page dedicated to Putin’s interests, including this anecdote about a rafting trip in Altai:

Putin also said that once he went whitewater rafting with his daughters down mountain rivers in Altai. “There we were in our raft (maybe I shouldn’t talk about it, but still), and some guys were standing on the bank. They were just standing there, nobody expected us to be there because we flew in quietly, boarded the raft and went down the mountain rivers. They were standing right on the bank, three of them, with these huge beer mugs. When they saw me, they called out: 'Mr President, join us!' I said no, I can’t, I’m in a hurry. 'Well then, here is to your health.' As if they had been waiting for me like I go rafting there every day,” Putin recalled.

12. He once crushed—er, tried to crush—a frying pan with his bare hands.

During a 2012 visit to a Kremlin youth camp, Putin participated in an arm wrestling match, scaled a climbing wall, and attempted to bend a frying pan in half. (No word on if he succeeded.) This is after he called the U.S. a “parasite on the global economy,” by the way. 

13. He’s driven a Formula One race car.

In 2010, Putin took a Renault Formula One race car for a little outing on a St. Petersburg track, reaching speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. During his test drive, he rocked a helmet boasting an image of Russia’s national symbol, a double-headed eagle. Safety first, you guys.

14. His biggest fans are bikers.

The Russian biker gang “Night Wolves” are sometimes called “Putin’s ‘Hell’s Angels,’” because they’re so patriotic. These guys are currently on the U.S. sanctions list because they love their leader so much (oh, and also because they support rebel fighters in Ukraine). 

15. He’s best friends with Steven Seagal.

According to Putin’s spokesman, the statesman and the former action hero are longtime pals. Putin recently proposed that his country make Seagal an honorary consul of Russia in California and Arizona. Obama’s response: “You’ve got to be kidding,” according to one anonymous American official.

A version of this story ran in 2013.

Original image
Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
arrow
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
Original image
Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

Original image
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
arrow
Lists
5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
Original image
An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios