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11 Reasons Agatha Christie Was as Interesting as Her Characters

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From MI5 investigations to going missing for 11 days, Agatha Christie led a life that was every bit as interesting as her novels.

1. She started writing mystery novels after her older sister told her she couldn’tthe plots were just too complicated and she didn’t think Agatha was capable of weaving them together.

2. Christie liked to dream up plot ideas while soaking in her large Victorian bath, munching on apples. She stopped the habit when she became dissatisfied with the baths available to her. “Nowadays they don’t build baths like that. I’ve rather given up the practice.”

3. In reference to how she was able to churn out so many books, Christie once called herself “a sausage machine, a perfect sausage machine.” For many years she was on a tight schedule of two books per year, including one that was always released right before the holiday season, which was marketed as “Christie for Christmas.”

4. Christie helped resolve a crime after her death. A toddler was dying from some sort of wasting disease that no one could seem to identify, until one of her nurses recalled The Pale Horse, the Christie novel she was reading. The Christie character was a victim of thallic poisoning and suffered from many of the same symptoms as the dying tot. In a last-ditch effort to figure out what was going on, the nurse had the patient’s thallium levels tested. They were more than 10 times the normal amount. After treatment, the girl made a full recovery. It was later determined that pesticides containing the deadly substance were regularly used around her home.

5. In a plot twist worthy of her own novels, Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926.

Her mother had recently died, and on top of that, her husband was cheating on her quite blatantly. On December 3, 1926, Agatha kissed her daughter goodnight, then promptly got in her car and left. Her abandoned vehicle was found a few miles away, but the writer herself had completely vanished. Lakes were dredged, 15,000 volunteers combed the area, and Archie Christie’s phone was tapped. Those who thought Archie was guilty of foul play were surprised when Agatha was located safe and sound a week and a half later, holed up at a hotel and spa in Harrogate, England—but the mystery wasn’t over. She never said why she disappeared, leading to wild speculation. Did she have amnesia resulting from a car crash? Was it a publicity stunt for her next book? Was she trying to frame her philandering husband for murder? We’ll never know, because Agatha never said. It’s worth noting, though, that Christie checked into the hotel under the surname “Neele”—the last name of her husband’s lover.

6. Before things went south for Agatha and Archie, they were some of the first British people to ever try surfing.

Image courtesy of Museum of British Surfing/SWNS.com

Already a bodyboarder, Agatha was excited to try the new sport when she and Archie visited Hawaii in 1922. “I learned to become expert, or at any rate expert from the European point of view—the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right into shore standing upright on my board!” she wrote in her autobiography. She was also delighted by her purchase of ''a wonderful, skimpy emerald green wool bathing dress, which was the joy of my life, and in which I thought I looked remarkably well!''

A researcher from the Museum of British Surfing says that only one other Brit seems to have taken up surfing before the Christies: Prince Edward.

7. In addition to 66 novels and 15 short story collections, Christie also wrote six romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott. It wasn’t her only pseudonym: she originally submitted her work to editors under the name “Monosyllaba.”

8. One of Christie’s books hit a little too close to the truth during WWII—so close, in fact, that MI5 launched an investigation. In her novel N or M, a character named Major Bletchley claims he knows critical British wartime secrets. It just so happened that Christie’s good friend Dilly Knox was a well-known codebreaker at Bletchley Park, so insiders at MI5 wondered if the wartime secrets known by the fictional character were actually real details that Knox had spilled. Knox denied that he had told Christie anything, but MI5 wasn’t convinced. If the author didn’t know anything, why had she given that specific character a name based on that location? Knox agreed to ask her, and it seems MI5 was satisfied by her answer: “Bletchley? My dear, I was stuck there on my way by train from Oxford to London and took revenge by giving the name to one of my least lovable characters."

9. Christie’s famous Belgian detective character Hercule Poirot is the only fictional character to receive an obituary in the New York Times.

10. Another of her famous characters, spinster detective Miss Marple, was based, in part, on her step-grandmother and “some of my step-grandmother's Ealing cronies—old ladies whom I have met in so many villages where I have gone to stay as a girl." You can hear snippets of her talking about it here—some of the only known recordings of Christie’s voice. And she sounds pretty much exactly what you’d expect her to sound like.

11. Christie's second husband, Max Mallowan, was a renowned British archaeologist. Christie loved to accompany him on digs and serve as his assistant, cleaning objects, matching shards of pottery, and helping to catalog items. She once remarked to Mallowan that she wished she had taken up archaeology as a girl so she would have been more knowledgeable on the subject as an adult. He responded, "Don't you realize that at this moment you know more about prehistoric pottery than any woman in England?"

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5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who passed away five years ago today—on July 23, 2012—at the age of 61.

1. SHE PROVED THERE IS SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TENNIS PRO.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. HOME ECONOMICS WAS NOT HER BEST SUBJECT.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. SHE HAD A STRONG TIE TO THE CHALLENGER.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. SHE DIDN'T SELL OUT.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

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5 Surprising Facts About the Battle of Dunkirk
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With the release of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dunkirk, the world’s attention is once again focused on the historic events recounted in the film, when a makeshift fleet of British fishing boats, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships helped save 185,000 British soldiers and 130,000 French soldiers from death or capture by German invaders during the Fall of France in May and June 1940. Here are five surprising facts about those heroic days.

1. THE GERMAN ATTACK WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.

By Weper Hermann, 13 German Mobile Assault Unit - Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The main reason France collapsed so quickly in 1940 was the element of surprise enjoyed by its German attackers, thanks to General Erich von Manstein, who proposed an invasion route that was widely believed to be impossible. In Manstein’s plan, the main German column of tanks and motorized infantry would force their way through the forests of Ardennes in southeast Belgium and Luxembourg—a thick, hilly woodland which was supposed to be difficult terrain for tanks, requiring at least five days to cross, according to conventional wisdom based on the experience of the First World War. The French and British assumed that little had changed since the previous conflict, but thanks to field studies and updated maps, Manstein and his colleague General Heinz Guderian realized that a new network of narrow, paved roads would allow just enough room for tanks and trucks to squeeze through. As a result the Germans passed through Ardennes into northern France in just two-and-a-half days, threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, with only one escape route: the sea.

2. ONE FRENCH WORD WAS BURNED INTO WINSTON CHURCHILL’S MEMORY: “AUCUNE.”

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The German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the same day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. By May 14, when he paid his first official visit to Britain’s ally, Holland had capitulated and Paris was preparing for evacuation. But an even worse surprise was in store. In one of the most famous passages of military history, Churchill recounted the moment he learned that the French didn’t have any troops in reserve:

"I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre … This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”

3. HITLER MADE A FATAL MISTAKE.

On May 24, 1940, the Allied troops on the French and Belgian coast had been totally surrounded by powerful German tank columns, rendering them essentially defenseless against the impending German onslaught. And then came a brief reprieve, as the attackers suddenly stopped for 48 hours, allowing the British to dig in and create a defensive perimeter, setting the stage for the evacuation.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, Hitler—over the protests of his own generals and to the bafflement of historians—had ordered Guderian to halt for two days to rest and resupply. It’s true the German troops were worn out after two weeks of fighting, and Hitler may have worried about a repeat of 1914, when exhausted German troops were forced to withdraw at the Marne. He may also have been swayed by Hermann Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, who boasted that air power alone could destroy the helpless Allied forces at Dunkirk. Less likely is the speculation that Hitler purposefully “let the Allies go” to appear magnanimous or merciful as a prelude to peace negotiations (which was not really in keeping with his character). In the end we will probably never know why Hitler choked.

4. GERMAN DIVE-BOMBERS WERE EQUIPPED WITH SIRENS TO SPREAD TERROR.

Among many examples of Germany’s evil genius for psychological warfare, one of the most famous was the decision to equip its Ju 87 dive bombers with air-powered sirens that emitted a shrieking, unearthly wail as the plane went into attack. The siren, known as the “Jericho Trumpet,” was intended to spread terror among enemy troops and civilians on the ground—and it worked. To this day the Jericho Trumpet is one of the most recognizable, and terrifying, sounds of war. It was certainly one of the lasting impressions of the Dunkirk evacuation for ordinary troops caught beneath the German bombs. Lieutenant Elliman, a British gunner who was waiting to be evacuated on Malo-les-Bains beach, later recalled the Stukas “diving, zooming, screeching, and wheeling over our heads like a flock of huge infernal seagulls.”

5. THE FRENCH FOUGHT A HOPELESS BATTLE TO COVER THE EVACUATION.

By Saidman (Mr), War Office official photographer — Photograph H 1636 from the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although Churchill and other Brits were quick to criticize the failure of France’s generals during the Fall of France, many ordinary French soldiers and officers fought bravely and honorably—and one hopeless “last stand” in particular probably helped enable the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.

As British and French troops withdrew to Dunkirk, 40 miles to the southeast French troops in two corps of the French First Army staged a ferocious defense against seven German divisions from May 28 to May 31, 1940, refusing to surrender and mounting several attempts to break out despite being heavily outnumbered (110,000 to 40,000). The valiant French effort, led by General Jean-Baptiste Molinié, helped tie up three German tank divisions under Erwin Rommel, enabling the British Expeditionary Force and the remaining troops of the French First Army to retreat and dig in at Dunkirk, ultimately saving another 100,000 Allied troops.

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