Our 35 Most Popular Stories of 2017

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From unsolved mysteries to feline flatulence, our readers' thirst for knowledge is wide and varied—and the same goes for our editors and writers. Need proof? Look no further than our 35 most popular stories of 2017. In case you weren't obsessively refreshing Mental Floss all year, here's what you missed:

1. Known Alias: How Stephen King Was Outed as Richard Bachman

For eight years, Stephen King's pseudonym went undiscovered. Then a bookstore clerk took a walk to the Library of Congress.

2. The True Identity of Jack the Ripper May Have Just Been Confirmed

Nearly 130 years after the infamous serial killer's gruesome murders cast a shadow over London, researchers believe they’ve uncovered the identity of their perpetrator.

3. The Hidden Room Behind Mount Rushmore

In the 14 years he spent planning the monument, artist Gutzon Borglum harbored a deep concern: that his creation would one day be shrouded in mystery. So he created the Hall of Records.

4. The Polish Doctors Who Used Science to Outwit the Nazis

The fake typhus epidemic staged by Eugene Lazowski and Stasiek Matulewicz during World War II saved thousands of lives.

5. 10 Things We Learned About Kim Jong-Un From His Classmates

The great agitator has always been known for being slightly temperamental. His love of the films of Jackie Chan was also well known.

6. Exhumation Confirms Gravesite of World's Fair Killer H.H. Holmes

For years, rumors have persisted that serial killer H.H. Holmes escaped the noose and got away with murder. But forensics told the real story.

7. Take a Look: An Oral History of Reading Rainbow

For 23 seasons, the LeVar Burton-hosted show taught generations of kids to love the written word. Here's how they did it.

8. Karen Wetterhahn, the Chemist Whose Poisoning Death Changed Safety Standards

She followed the safety protocol, but the mother of two was dead within a year.

9. 7 TV Characters Killed Off Out of Spite

Death is never easy. That’s especially true in television, where the demise of popular characters can alienate audiences and send a series into a tailspin.

10. When Did the Do Not Call List Stop Working?

There was once a time when picking up a call from an unfamiliar number didn’t guarantee you’d be talking to a robot. Then, at the turn of the decade, something changed. So what happened?

11. The Quiet Strength of Julia, the First Muppet with Autism

In April, Sesame Street viewers got their first glimpse of Julia, the first new Muppet cast member on the series in nearly a decade, who represented a significant milestone for the legendary show.

12. Opening Your Car Door Like the Dutch Do Can Save Cyclists' Lives

To prevent dooring accidents in the Netherlands, people rely on a simple practice that’s been dubbed the “Dutch Reach."

13. The Mysterious 19th Century ‘Princess' Who Fooled a Town

One day in 1817, a woman named "Princess Caraboo" appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

14. The Most Important Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of

Clair Patterson determined the age of the Earth—and then he saved it.

15. I, Darwin: An Oral History of the IKEA Monkey

The Japanese snow macaque managed to unlock a car door and stun bystanders at a Canadian IKEA. Things only got weirder from there.

16. 10 Award-Winning Optical Illusions and Brain Puzzles

Yes, your mind really is playing tricks on you. Learn how and why.

17. The Murderer Who Helped Make the Oxford English Dictionary

The OED’s most prolific contributor was a sex-addicted murderer who lived in an insane asylum.

18. Do Cats Fart?

Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. This is one of them.

19. Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

The Australia-born "star" made just three films before vanishing from the public eye.

20. Researchers Discover New Species of Giant Spider

Tiny, dainty spiders no bigger than a Tic-Tac probably won’t send your blood pressure rising. But the 4-inch-long, red-fanged Sierra Cacachilas wandering spider is another story.

21. An (Almost) Comprehensive History of Rat Kings

A ball of furry fury, a rat king occurs when the tails of rodents become twisted, wrapped, and warped into a knot so impossible that not even the world's most loyal Boy Scout could untangle it.

22. Why People Walked Differently in Medieval Times

A whole lot about medieval life would feel foreign to us now. No indoor plumbing, no toilet paper, and a whole lot of blood letting. But you might not expect that you’d have to walk differently, too.

23. There's a Wire Above Manhattan That You've Probably Never Noticed

It's hard to imagine that anything literally hanging from utility poles across Manhattan could be considered "hidden," but throughout the borough, about 18 miles of translucent wire stretches around the skyline, and most people have likely never noticed.

24. An Ex-Google Engineer Just Reinvented the Measuring Cup

Recognizing a problem most people didn’t even know they had, former Google and Facebook software engineer Joshua Redstone has made a bold claim for his recent Kickstarter venture: He’s developed a better measuring cup.

25. Solved: A Jane Doe From Unsolved Mysteries Is Identified

For 27 years, investigators at California's Orange County Sheriff’s Department's Coroner Division would periodically pull out a case file that kept nagging at them. In 2017, their dogged pursuit of the victim's identity has finally paid off.

26. The Man Who Built a 40-Foot Spite Fence Around His Neighbor’s Home

When Nicholas Yung wouldn't sell his land to railroad baron Charles Crocker, Crocker built a 40-foot fence around his house and blotted out the sun.

27. Scientists May Have Found the Real Cause of Dyslexia—And a Way to Treat It

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the so-called learning disability may actually start in the eyes.

28. Candy Crush: The Bizarre History of Those '90s Mentos Commercials

The series of slightly disturbing ads annoyed some, but paid off for the "Freshmaker" candy company.

29. How Eclipse Chasers Are Putting a Small Kentucky Town on the Map

The most anticipated eclipse in American history arrived in the summer of 2017. At the heart of it was Hopkinsville, which anticipated 100,000 visitors.

30. The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

How do you narrow down the entire history of science fiction cinema into a list of only the 10 best movies? We're here to help.

31. What's the Purpose of the Diamond on the Front of Backpacks?

It's called a pig snout. And it's there for a reason.

32. The Men Who Volunteered to Be Poisoned by the Government

In 1902, 12 men agreed to take low doses of poison in order to test their efficacy as food preservatives. No one died. Basically.

33. What Did the Mob Think of The Godfather?

Before filming began, men with ties to organized crime made it clear that Paramount would need to meet certain demands—or else.

34. How 7 Wild Game of Thrones Fan Theories Panned Out in Season 7

The hit HBO series tied up a handful of loose ends in particularly satisfying fashion, but left just as many unanswered questions.

35. Can You Really Lose Weight by Pooping?

You can indeed see the effects of a truly satisfying bowel movement reflected on your bathroom scale. (Wash your hands first, please.)

10 Fast Facts About Jimi Hendrix

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Though he’s widely considered one of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century, Jimi Hendrix passed away as his career was really just getting started. Still, he managed to accomplish a lot in the approximately four years he spent in the spotlight, and leave this world a legend when he died on September 18, 1970, at the age of 27. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the musical legend.

1. Jimi Hendrix didn't become "Jimi" until 1966.

Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle on November 27, 1942 as John Allen Hendrix. He was initially raised by his mother while his father, James “Al” Hendrix, was in Europe fighting in World War II. When Al returned to the United States in 1945, he collected his son and renamed him James Marshall Hendrix.

In 1966, Chas Chandler—the bassist for The Animals, who would go on to become Jimi’s manager—saw the musician playing at Cafe Wha? in New York City. "This guy didn't seem anything special, then all of a sudden he started playing with his teeth," roadie James "Tappy" Wright, who was there, told the BBC in 2016. "People were saying, 'What the hell?' and Chas thought, 'I could do something with this kid.’”

Though Hendrix was performing as Jimmy James at the time, it was Chandler who suggested he use the name “Jimi.”

2. Muddy Waters turned Jimi Hendrix on to the guitar—and scared the hell out of him.

When asked about the guitarists who inspired him, Hendrix cited Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Elmore James, and B.B. King. But Muddy Waters was the first musician who truly made him aware of the instrument. “The first guitarist I was aware of was Muddy Waters,” Hendrix said. “I heard one of his old records when I was a little boy and it scared me to death because I heard all these sounds.”

3. Jimi Hendrix could not read music.


George Stroud/Express/Getty Images

In 1969, Dick Cavett asked the musician whether he could read music: “No, not at all,” the self-taught musician replied. He learned to play by ear and would often use words or colors to express what he wanted to communicate. “[S]ome feelings make you think of different colors,” he said in an interview with Crawdaddy! magazine. “Jealousy is purple—‘I'm purple with rage’ or purple with anger—and green is envy, and all this.”

4. Jimi Hendrix used his dreams as inspiration for his songwriting.

Hendrix drew inspiration for his music from a lot of places, including his dreams. “I dreamt a lot and I put a lot of my dreams down as songs,” he explained in a 1967 interview with New Musical Express. “I wrote one called ‘First Look’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze,’ which was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” (In another interview, he said the idea for “Purple Haze” came to him in a dream after reading a sci-fi novel, believed to be Philip José Farmer’s Night of Light.)

5. "Purple Haze" features one of music's most famous mondegreens.

In the same interview with New Musical Express, it's noted that the “Purple Haze” lyric “‘scuse me while I kiss the sky” was in reference to a drowning man Hendrix saw in his dream. Which makes the fact that many fans often mishear the line as “‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy” even more appropriate. It was such a common mistake that Hendrix himself was known to have some fun with it, often singing the incorrect lyrics on stage—occasionally even accompanied by a mock make-out session. There’s even a Website, KissThisGuy.com, dedicated to collecting user-generated stories of misheard lyrics.

6. Jimi Hendrix played his guitar upside-down.

Ever the showman, Hendrix’s many guitar-playing quirks became part of his legend: In addition to playing with his teeth, behind his back, or without touching the instrument’s strings, he also played his guitar upside-down—though there was a very simple reason for that. He was left-handed. (His father tried to get him to play right-handed, as he considered left-handed playing a sign of the devil.)

7. Jimi Hendrix played backup for a number of big names.

Though Hendrix’s name would eventually eclipse most of those he played with in his early days, he played backup guitar for a number of big names under the name Jimmy James, including Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner, and The Isley Brothers.

In addition to the aforementioned musical legends, Hendrix also helped actress Jayne Mansfield in her musical career. In 1965, he played lead and bass guitar on “Suey,” the B-side to her single “As The Clouds Drift By.”

8. Jimi Hendrix was once kidnapped after a show.

Though the details surrounding Hendrix’s kidnapping are a bit sketchy, in Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, Charles R. Cross wrote about how the musician was kidnapped following a show at The Salvation, a club in Greenwich Village:

“He left with a stranger to score cocaine, but was instead held hostage at an apartment in Manhattan. The kidnappers demanded that [Hendrix’s manager] Michael Jeffrey turn over Jimi’s contract in exchange for his release. Rather than agree to the ransom demand, Jeffrey hired his own goons to search out the extorters. Mysteriously, Jeffrey’s thugs found Jimi two days later … unharmed.

“It was such a strange incident that Noel Redding suspected that Jeffrey had arranged the kidnapping to discourage Hendrix from seeking other managers; others … argued the kidnapping was authentic.”

9. Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees.

Though it’s funny to imagine such a pairing today, Hendrix warming up The Monkees’s crowd of teenybopper fans actually made sense for both acts back in 1967. For the band, having a serious talent like Hendrix open for them would help lend them some credibility among serious music fans and critics. Though Hendrix thought The Monkees’s music was “dishwater,” he wasn’t well known in America and his manager convinced him that partnering with the band would help raise his profile. One thing they didn’t take into account: the young girls who were in the midst of Monkeemania.

The Monkees’s tween fans were confused by Hendrix’s overtly sexual stage antics. On July 16, 1967, after playing just eight of their 29 scheduled tour dates, Hendrix flipped off an audience in Queens, New York, threw down his guitar, and walked off the stage.

10. You can visit Jimi Hendrix's London apartment.

In 2016, the London flat where Hendrix really began his career was restored to what it would have looked like when Jimi lived there from 1968 to 1969 and reopened as a museum. The living room that doubled as his bedroom is decked out in bohemian décor, and a pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes sits on the bedside table. There’s also space dedicated to his record collection.

Amazingly, the same apartment building—which is located in the city’s Mayfair neighborhood—was also home to George Handel from 1723 until his death in 1759; the rest of the building serves as a museum to the famed composer’s life and work.

13 Facts About Amadeus On Its 35th Anniversary

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though much has been written about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the most entertaining look at the master composer's life might very well be Amadeus, Milos Forman's film about the artist's life (and rivalries), which was released on September 19, 1984.

Here's a look back at the Oscar-winning biopic that not only brought renewed interest to Mozart's music in the 1980s, but inspired Austrian rocker Falco to write the chart-topping "Rock Me Amadeus." Poor Salieri never stood a chance.

1. Amadeus began life as a Tony Award-winning play.

Russian poet/playwright Alexander Pushkin wrote a short play in 1830 called Mozart and Salieri, and playwright Peter Shaffer—who was already a Tony winner for Equus—took inspiration from that to write his own play. Amadeus played in various theaters in London beginning in 1979, then premiered on Broadway in 1980 with Ian McKellen as Antonio Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart, and Jane Seymour as Constanze, Mozart's wife. The production won five Tonys, including Best Play and Best Actor for McKellen, who beat out Curry for the award; the two leads had been nominated in the same category.

2. Mark Hamill wanted the lead role, but Milos Forman wouldn't let him audition.

In an attempt to circumvent any typecasting he might get after three blockbuster Star Wars films launched his career, Mark Hamill played the composer on Broadway for nine months in 1983. But when the time came for the movie to be made, Czech director Miloš Forman couldn’t get the space cowboy image out of his head. “Miloš Forman told me, ‘Oh no, you must not play the Mozart because the people not believing the Luke Spacewalker as Mozart,’” Hamill said in a 1986 interview. “He was very upfront about it, and I appreciated that rather than getting my hopes up that it was possible I’d be playing the role.”

3. Kenneth Branagh legitimately thought he had landed the lead role.

A young Kenneth Branagh was an early contender for the part of Mozart. In his autobiography, he wrote that he thought he had the part in the bag until Forman informed him they were casting Americans for the leads. Other actors who auditioned for the Mozart role included Tim Curry and Mel Gibson. Though Mozart was a rock star in his day, actual rock star Mick Jagger was also turned down after his audition.

4. Mozart's frequent collaborator Emanuel Schikaneder was played by another stage Mozart.

Actor Simon Callow originated the role of Mozart at the Royal National Theater production of Amadeus in 1979, and though Forman told him his portrayal was "truly brilliant, fantastic, asshole and genius, funny, tragic, crazy, a baby and a god," the director wasn't prepared to give him the title role in the film. Instead, he cast Callow as Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist who worked with Mozart on The Magic Flute and played the part of Papageno the bird catcher.

5. The movie was shot without the use of light bulbs or other modern lighting devices.

The Tyl Theatre in Prague was the original theater where Don Giovanni first premiered in October 1787, and the authenticity of the building was a huge boon for the production since it had hardly been updated since it was first built in 1783. “[The Tyl is] where the opera premiered. And he conducted the first performance. And none of the opera house had been touched since he was there," choreographer Twyla Tharp recalled in 2015. "We had fire everywhere. We could have burnt down the opera house. We had live fire in the chandelier. We were lighting people on stage, and these guys were whipping these torches around."

Patrizia von Brandenstein—who became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Art Direction with this movie—had nightmares about damaging the all-wooden opera house. "I thought, 'God will truly punish me if this place catches on fire,'" she said.

6. Tom Hulce practiced piano for four to five hours a day.

In order to look believable on camera, Hulce spent a month with a piano teacher before filming. Although he knew some basics—he could read music, and had played violin and sung in choirs as a child—he needed to look like a natural. "I spent four weeks, four to five hours a day learning to play,” Hulce told People in 1984. “The first two days were scales and exercises. The next day was a concerto." And for that scene at the masquerade ball when Mozart plays a tune while lying on his back? That was really Hulce.

7. Tom Hulce's laugh is semi-historical, though he had trouble recreating it.

Throughout the movie, Mozart has an infectious cackle—it comes out just as often when he’s giddy as when he’s uncomfortable. Though there are dubious historical reports that the real Mozart had such an obnoxious laugh, Hulce created the giggle after Forman asked him to come up with "something extreme." "I've never been able to make that sound except in front of a camera," Hulce later said. "When we did the looping nine months later, I couldn't find the laugh. I had to raid the producer's private bar and have a shot of whiskey to jar myself into it."

8. Someone really did commission a requiem from Mozart—it just wasn't Salieri.

The script clearly took some artistic liberties, including the plot line of the masked man who comes to Mozart pretending to be his dead father. This was not, as the movie portrays, Salieri. But in 1791, Austrian Count Franz von Walsegg—who had a penchant for commissioning music to pass off as his own at his twice-weekly concerts—approached Mozart and asked for a requiem for his beloved wife, who had died on Valentine’s Day.

According to a famously censored document in which a teacher near Vienna, Anton Herzog, recorded firsthand accounts of von Walsegg’s court, the Count often rewrote these commissioned quartets and other scores in his own hand and didn’t give credit to the original composers. His staff musicians often laughed this off because it seemed to amuse the Count, and because the Count was also an amateur musician in his own right. Mozart’s “Requiem Mass in D minor,” the document alleges, was one such piece. And Mozart really did die later that year, in December, before completing the full mass. Salieri didn’t help him complete it though; Austrian composer and possible Mozart student Franz Süssmayr took that on.

9. The actors felt intense jealousy, too.

Salieri and Mozart were the 18th-century equivalent of frenemies: They were contemporaries in a competitive field, and though they needed each other’s support, they weren’t above petty jealousies and a little backstabbing. Hulce and F. Murray Abraham (who played Salieri) also felt those pressures. ''Tom and Meg [Tilly, the actress originally cast as Constanze] were very close,'' Abraham told The New York Times in 1984. ''They had these secret jokes and were always laughing together. I was pushed out, and I was resentful. I began to have very nasty feelings that were exactly like Salieri's feelings toward Mozart. When that correspondence between a film and real life occurs, it's a director's dream.''

“Occasionally Murray and I would go out and drink this terrible sweet champagne that they have in Prague," added Hulce. "But at other times there was a rivalry between us, and I found myself suspicious of him.''

10. It was shot almost entirely on location in Prague—while under surveillance from the Secret Police.

During filming in 1983, Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule. The production team was often followed around by the secret police, and Forman and the cast spoke about their fears that a Fourth of July prank—the unfurling of the American flag in the concert hall and the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by the large cast and crew—would lead to their arrests for inciting rebellion. Many suspected that their hotel rooms had been bugged during the six months they spent filming the movie.

Forman, who was considered a traitor for becoming an American citizen and not returning to the Soviet-controlled area, had previously had one of his movies banned in the country (then called the Czech Socialist Republic). According to Twyla Tharp, in order to shoot in red territory, Forman had to make certain concessions. "Miloš had to sign an agreement that he would go to his hotel every night for the year that he was there and that his driver would be his best friend from the old days," Tharp told The Hollywood Reporter. "And everybody knew what would happen to his best friend if something untoward politically happened around Miloš, because Miloš was a sort of local hero and he was dangerous to the authorities."

11. A teenage Cynthia Nixon had a small but pivotal role.

At age 17, Nixon played Lorl, the maid employed by Salieri to spy on Mozart. Though she was an experienced child actor at that point, she was also trying to finish her schooling. Thus, she and her parents were cautious of the time she'd need to be abroad for filming. "When I was cast in Amadeus with Miloš Forman, which was shooting in Europe," Nixon said in 2014, "I said, 'I want to be in your film so much, but I have a request: If I don’t shoot for two days in a row, you have to send me home.' They agreed."

12. The distributor made a promotional video depicting Mozart as a modern rock star.

Since the movie wasn't financed by a major studio with lots of promotional dollars behind it, the distributor, Orion Pictures, decided to get creative. And what better way to promote a rock star in the age of MTV than with a music video featuring David Lee Roth and cuts of Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, KISS, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Madonna dancing along to Mozart's "Symphony No. 25 in G minor"?

13. The movie was a huge hit.

The film nearly tripled its $18 million budget at the box office, which was particularly impressive considering it opened in a limited 25 theaters and didn’t have a wide release until several months later. The movie also swept the Academy Awards—of its 11 nominations, it won eight, including Best Picture and Best Director. And, just as on Broadway, Salieri won the Best Actor statuette over Mozart, with Abraham beating out Hulce.

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