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27 Things We’ve Learned From John Green on YouTube

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Millions of viewers can call themselves smarter for having watched John Green’s awesome YouTube escapades on such shows as Vlogbrothers, Crash Course, and our own mental_floss video series. In honor of his outstanding service to trivia buffs everywhere, here are 27 of the most remarkable tidbits John has shared with us over the years.

1. The Metal Thing that Attaches Erasers to Pencils is Called the “Ferrule.”

This isn’t to be confused with the term for wild felines, as John quickly reminds us.

2. James Buchanan’s Nickname was “The Old Public Functionary.”

Apparently, not every presidential nickname has to roll off the tongue.

3. YouTubers Upload Over 864,000 Hours Worth of Content Per Day.

One mental_floss viewer wanted to know how long it would take to watch every single video that’s been posted on YouTube—a process John claimed “would take significantly longer than forever.”

4. Most of us Use the Word “Acronym” Incorrectly.

To be considered a proper acronym, an abbreviation must be pronounceable as a word. Ergo, while N.A.T.O. (the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization”) is a proper acronym, whenever you text “O.M.G.” (“Oh My God”), you’re actually using something called an “initialism.”

5. Baby Potato Beetles Have Poisonous Poop.

This defense mechanism compensates for their general lack of body armor. To deter predators, the young insects cover themselves in their own toxic fecal matter.

6. In Ancient Peru, Only Women of Nobility Were Allowed to Brew Beer.

After revealing this fun fact, John went on to explain that one of the main reasons why the Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock instead of venturing further was because they’d run out of beer.

7. Webster University’s Mascot is a Fictional Beast Called “The Gorlock.”

This animal purportedly “has the paws of a cheetah, the horns of a buffalo, and the face of a St. Bernard.” Its distinctive name was inspired by a pair of streets that neighbored the school’s original location.

8. According to a U.N. Estimate, Poverty Has Decreased More in the Past 50 Years than in the Previous 500.

Who says “No news is good news"? It turns out that malaria-related deaths and pet euthanasia rates have also been declining recently.

9. Koko the Gorilla Once Hugged Mister Rogers.

A fan of his show, the simian sign-language master immediately embraced Fred Rogers when the TV star dropped by for a visit.

10. In Washington State, it’s Illegal to Use X-Ray Equipment for Shoe-Fittings.

11. JD Salinger Considered Playing the Role of Holden Caulfield in an Unmade Stage Adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger would’ve been 30 at the time, far too old to play his teenage protagonist. However, because he adamantly refused to allow another actor to take on the role, the project fell through.

12. Granny Smith Apples are Named After Their Discoverer, Maria Ann Smith of Australia.

Despite Smith’s accomplishments, as John explains here, the fruits weren’t made commercially available until a quarter-century after her death.

13. Trimethylaminuria is a Metabolic Disorder that Makes You Smell Like Day-Old Fish.

Unfortunately, there’s no known cure.

14. Thanks to An Unfortunate Typo, a 1631 Edition of the King James Bible Said the 7th Commandment is “Thou SHALT Commit Adultery.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury was particularly outraged at this blooper and the careless printers were fined.

15. Chameleons Don’t Change Color to Blend In… They do it to Communicate and Regulate their Body Temperatures.

In the pilot episode of mental_floss on YouTube, John debunked the idea that camouflage is the main reason why these bizarre lizards alter their hues.

16. Playwright Oscar Wilde’s Last Words Were “Either That Wallpaper Goes or I Do!”

Like Miles “Pudge” Halter—the main character of his first novel, Looking for Alaska—John enjoys memorizing the dying utterances of famous people.

17. Soviet Astronaut Gehrman Titov Became the First Person to Vomit in Space.

The incident caused the U.S.S.R. to shut down its space program for a year as they grappled with the phenomenon of “space sickness.”

18. H.G. Wells Married his Cousin, Isabel, in 1891, Only to Leave Her for One of His Students Three Years Later.

A patron saint of science fiction, Wells also had affairs with novelist Rebecca West and birth-control activist Margaret Sanger.

19. Humans Have Far More Than Five Senses.

Everyone knows the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. But the ability to perceive balance, time, and approximate temperature are additional functions our bodies don’t often get their due credit for sporting.

20. The Average Sponge Contains More Bacteria than the Average Toilet Seat.

For more health and wellness insights, check out pediatrician Dr. Aaron Carroll’s show “Healthcare Triage,” on which John makes regular appearances.

21. Syphilis was so Common in Nazi-Occupied France that Hitler Decided to Fight the Problem with Blow-Up Sex Dolls.

“It probably goes without saying,” John states, “that the idea was eventually abandoned because the troops were like ‘Actually, we just prefer Syphilis!’”

22. Only 9 Percent of Giraffe Matings are Heterosexual.

In the wild world of giraffe copulation (a subject the Greens love revisiting), same-sex coitus is quite abundant, as is the practice of ritualized urine-drinking.

23. What do Catherine the Great, King George II, and Elvis Presley Have in Common? They All Died on the Toilet.

Skip to the 6:01-mark in this video for a list of other notable people who perished in the privy.

24. Ptolemy Said Shooting Stars were the Result of Gods Looking Down on Earth.

It’s for this reason that many of us wish upon these meteors to this very day.

25. A “Megadeath” is an Actual Unit of Measurement Used to Record the Number of Fatalities After an Atomic Explosion.

One Megadeath is equal to 1 million casualties.

26. The Great Pyramid of Giza Was the World’s Tallest Building for Over 3800 Years.

For more amazing info on Ancient Egypt, check out this early episode of Crash Course: World History.

27. Kent State University has Offered Classes on the Careers of Adam Sandler and Will Farrell.

An adjunct professor also teaches a course dedicated to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

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How Abraham Lincoln Was Like a Two-Year-Old

John Green wrote tons of great pieces in his early days as a mental_floss contributor, and the “Not So Different After All” chapter in our book What’s the Difference? might have been our favorite. Here's just one example of John explaining how two seemingly unrelated things were quite similar on closer inspection.

Abraham Lincoln and Two-Year-Olds

Lincoln: Had a “willful, impudent, childish” wife (to quote her biographer)
Two-Year-Olds: Are generally willful, impudent, and childish

Lincoln: Openly wept the first time he heard “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”
Two-Year-Olds: Openly weep for any old reason

Lincoln: Once said of do-nothing General George McClellan: “If McClellan is not using the army, I should like to borrow it for a while.”
Two-Year-Olds: Also constantly want to take stuff away from you

Lincoln: Most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, contained exactly 272 words
Two-Year-Olds: According to a Harvard University study, the average two-year-old has a vocabulary of exactly 272 words (“civil” and “war” not among them)

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Mangesh Hattikudur on Working With Young John Green

So, the strange thing about the first time I met John Green—at a Birmingham house party in 2002—is that at the time, I was kind of a bigger deal than he was. Which is not to say that I am, or ever have been, a “big deal.” (For clarification: I’m not/haven’t ever been.) It’s just that, well, that should put things in perspective.

In 2002, John Green was this guy working for Booklist, who said he was going to write a book. I’ve met a lot of people who say they’re going to write a book, and more often than not, they don’t. Meanwhile, I’d lucked into starting a magazine with my college friends. A very small magazine, called mental_floss, that at that time maybe 400 people subscribed to (from what we could tell, the demographic was my mom, the other co-founders’ moms, and 396 of our moms’ friends).

But in the last few months our magazine had gotten some national press. Publishers were talking to us about book deals. We were starting to bring more talent on board, including our editor Neely Harris. And we’d just set up shop in our first real workspace—a former dentist’s office that had free Muzak as one of its perks. (Thinking about it now, I’m not sure the Muzak was supposed to be a perk; I think the previous tenants just forgot to stop the service.)

That night, I was at Neely’s house party, doing a terrible job of trying to mingle, when she pulled me over to meet this high school friend of hers who she warned was weird, but also hilarious and kind of a genius. And then I got the John Green experience. As he fumbled to take out a few pieces of nicotine gum—which I learned that night are maddeningly hard to free from the plastic—John proceeded to keep me captivated. He told me how Booklist had taught him to read quickly, and how he was fast becoming an expert on reviewing books about conjoined twins. He told me he wanted to write young adult books, a genre I’d never heard of, and when I excitedly asked if he meant like Roald Dahl, he politely responded no. He told me about the hippie boarding school he, and Neely, and all these other talented young people like Daniel Alarcon had gone to—where kids could take classes like “Drawing to Music,” and where instead of detentions, a student committee doled out gardening duties as punishment. He told me a hilariously inappropriate story that later ended up in his book Looking for Alaska, which I wasn’t sure was true or not, but I loved hearing anyway. He told me about being a divinity school drop-out (and then he listed other famous drop-outs, like Casanova and Michael Moore). When someone’s cell phone started ringing, he let me know it was probably his because it was a Super Mario Bros. ringtone. And he told me his philosophy on lying—that sometimes he liked to lie a little, just to keep his storytelling skills sharp.

I liked him immediately. The John Green of that night wasn’t the YA rockstar/internet phenom everyone knows now. The 2014 model is more confident, not a Nicorette chewer, a better speaker, and more likely to beat me in a footrace, among other things. But he was basically the same guy you see today—a whip-smart storyteller who couldn’t have been funnier or nicer. Neely suggested that with John’s interest in religious studies, we should ask him to write the cover story for our next issue, Saints and Sinners, which he did. And once I read his writing, I just kept booking him for projects.

Over the next few years, he continued to dazzle us. He helped me write and brainstorm the magazine’s front of book and cover stories. He pulled incredibly talented people into the fold, including Ransom Riggs and Hank Green. When Harper Collins asked us to churn out four mental_floss books in a single year, he hit every deadline. He sat in a room, with a box of Cheez-Its, and he knocked the books out. At the time, he was also writing An Abundance of Katherines, which made the feat even more impressive.

In those years, I edited John’s work for mental_floss. And while we discussed business on phone calls and admired each other’s terrible jokes, we rarely met in person. But he’s always been encouraging. Once, when I was going through a rough patch, he reminded me how good we have it. The words aren’t quite right, but he said something like, “We’re lucky. People actually take time out of their days to write us and tell us that we made their favorite something. Their favorite book. Their favorite magazine. What other line of work do you get that sort of affirmation?” It might sound vain, or corny, but it’s true. I’ve been incredibly lucky—to stumble into a job I love; to have found a fanbase that gives us so much support; to get to keep learning for a living. And of course, one of the best parts of my job is all the talented people I get to work with. From the beginning, we all expected John’s star to rise. We just knew it would happen. And when it did, we couldn’t help but root for his success. But when he was working here, teaching us how to write better and inspiring us to think bigger, it was also just nice to be in the same orbit.

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