19 Things You Might Not Have Known About Albert Einstein

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In 1999, Albert Einstein was awarded Time's Person of the Century. The father of special and general relativity, Einstein's theories introduced concepts that would help make dozens of modern technologies possible. "I have no special talents," Einstein was quoted saying. "I am only passionately curious." Here are some facts about the physicist who gave us crazy hair and E=MC^2.

1. When Albert Einstein was born, his misshapen head terrified the room.

A portrait of a young Albert Einstein with his sister.
A portrait of a young Albert Einstein with his sister.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On March 14, 1879, baby Einstein emerged with a "swollen, misshapen head and a grossly overweight body," according to Denis Brian's book, Einstein: A Life. When she got a look at him later, the chunky child terrified Einstein's grandmother, who screamed, "Much too fat! Much too fat!" Thankfully, Albert would eventually grow into his body. (However, he did have trouble developing in other arenas: He supposedly wouldn't start speaking until the age of 2.)

2. As a child, Einstein was the king of throwing temper tantrums.

The young genius had a habit of throwing objects whenever he was displeased; once, a frustrated Einstein even threw a chair at his teacher. The 5-year-old enjoyed bombarding his tutors and family members: His sister Maja, who was often conked in the head by Einstein's fusillades, later quipped, "It takes a sound skull to be the sister of an intellectual."

According to the biography by Alice Calaprice and Trevor Lipscombe, "When he became angry, his whole face turned yellow except for the tip of his nose, which turned white."

3. Einstein did not struggle in school.

The idea that Einstein had trouble in school is a myth. During summers, a pre-teen Einstein would study mathematics and physics for fun, eventually mastering differential and integral calculus by age 15. But that's not to say he was a perfect student. Einstein hated rote learning and refused to study subjects that didn't interest him. So, naturally, when the obstinate number-lover took the entrance exam to the polytechnic school in Zurich, he flunked the language, zoology, and botany sections.

4. Nobody knows Einstein's IQ.

Einstein's IQ was never tested, though that hasn't stopped people from guessing. Lots of websites claim the physicist's IQ was 160, but there's simply no way of verifying that claim. "One fundamental problem with the estimates I've seen is that they tend to conflate intellectual ability with domain-specific achievement," Dean Keith Simonton, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Davis told Biography. For all we know, Einstein's aptitude in arenas outside of physics might have rivaled that of an average Joe.

5. Einstein refreshed his brain by playing the violin.

Einstein violin
Keystone, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Whenever Einstein needed to relax, he turned to music. He started violin lessons at age 5 and, at around 17, impressed his teachers at cantonal school with his playing during a music exam. Around 1914, when Einstein lived in Berlin, he'd play sonatas with his friend and fellow theoretical physicist, Max Planck. And after he became famous, Einstein would play a handful benefit concerts alongside greats like Fritz Kreisler. "Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories," his second wife, Elsa, said. "He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study." [PDF]

6. Fashion was not Einstein's strong suit.

Einstein hated wearing socks and was immensely proud of the fact that he didn't have to wear them while giving lectures at Oxford in the 1930s. His antipathy apparently stemmed from a childhood realization: "When I was young I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock," Einstein reportedly said. "So I stopped wearing socks." As an adult, he typically wore an undershirt, baggy trousers held by rope, and a pair of (occasionally women's) sandals.

7. Einstein loved sailing (and was absolutely terrible at it).

While an undergraduate in Zurich, Einstein fell in love with sailing—a passion that would persist throughout his life. There was just one problem: He was a horrible sailor. He regularly tipped his boat over and required rescue dozens of times. (His sailboat was named Tinef, Yiddish for "worthless.") In 1935, The New York Times reported on Einstein's sailing misadventures with the punny headline: "Relative Tide and Sand Bars Trap Einstein."

8. Fatherhood gave Einstein his iconic crazy hair.

As a young man, Einstein sported a well-maintained head of dark hair—that is, until his son Hans was born in 1904. Like many new parents, Einstein discovered that having a new mouth to feed changed everything: The patent clerk was so busy trying to support his family that he stopped combing his hair and visiting the barber. Slowly, an iconic look was born.

Einstein would spurn barbers for the rest of his life. His second wife, Elsa, would cut his mop whenever it became disheveled.

9. Einstein had a habit of mindlessly gorging on food.

When Einstein was a patent clerk, he formed a book club with two friends and called it the "Olympia Academy." The trio usually dined on sausages, Gruyere cheese, fruit, and tea. But on Einstein's birthday, his friends brought expensive caviar as a surprise. Einstein, who had a knack for mindlessly eating when talking about something he was passionate about, began stuffing his face while discussing Galileo's principle of inertia—totally unaware of what he was eating. He later offered this excuse: "Well if you offer gourmet foods to peasants like me, you know they won't appreciate it."

10. Einstein had a bawdy sense of humor.

Einstein enjoyed the occasional dirty joke. When he accepted his first job as a professor, he said, "[N]ow I too am an official member of the guild of whores." And when a member of his book club gave him a nameplate that said "Albert, Knight of the Backside," Einstein proudly kept it tacked on his apartment door. Later in life, he'd tell jokes to his pet parrot, Bibo. (Einstein believed the bird was depressed and needed a laugh.)

11. Einstein loved the famous tongue photo.

Einstein lounging
Three Lions, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

On his 72nd birthday, Einstein was leaving an event held in his honor. As he was getting into his car, photographers asked him to smile for the camera. Einstein, however, was sick and tired of grinning for a photograph—he'd be doing it all evening—so he popped his tongue out instead. Einstein liked the photo so much that he put it on his greeting cards.

12. Einstein was an inventor.

Having spent seven years working in the Swiss Patent Office, Einstein was naturally curious about inventing and would secure approximately 50 patents during his lifetime. He enjoyed tinkering with electronics and would eventually patent a self-adjusting camera, a refrigerator that could last 100 years, and even a blouse.

13. When it came to love, Einstein was no genius.

Einstein, who married twice, had multiple extramarital affairs—including one dalliance with a possible Russian spy. His first marriage with Mileva Marić (a physicist he met at the Swiss Polytechnic School) soured after the birth of their third child. As their marriage crumbled, Einstein imposed a list of brusque—if not cruel—demands which included: "You will obey the following points in your relations with me: 1. You will not expect intimacy from me … 2. You will stop talking to me if I request it." Unsurprisingly, they divorced. Later, Einstein married his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal.

14. A letter Einstein signed helped spark the Manhattan Project.

Einstein was not part of the Manhattan Project, but he was instrumental in getting it started. In the late 1930s, German scientists discovered nuclear fission of uranium, a major step toward the development of the atomic bomb. Much of the world's uranium was held in the Congo—then a colony of Belgium—so two Hungarian-American physicists named Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner decided to get Einstein to write a letter to his friend, the Queen of Belgium. Einstein suggested a letter to a Belgian minister instead, but an encounter with an economist who knew President Roosevelt resulted in a change in direction and a letter that prompted America to start its own experiments.

15. Einstein loved answering fanmail from children.

Einstein received countless letters from the public, but he always tried to answer mail sent by children. (In one letter, a young girl complained about her troubles with math. The professor supposedly wrote back, "Do not worry about your difficulty in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.") Einstein's many correspondences with children—filled with charm and encouragement—are compiled in a book by Alice Calaprice called Dear Professor Einstein.

16. Einstein turned down the presidency of Israel.

E=MC2
The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise gives Einstein a shout-out as it launches the first nuclear-powered circumnavigation of the world in 1964.
Keystone, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

After the first president of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, died in 1952, the Prime Minister asked Einstein to step into the (mostly ceremonial) role. The physicist declined, writing: "I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions."

17. Einstein was an outspoken advocate for racial justice.

Having abandoned Germany in 1933 to avoid Nazi persecution, Einstein was sensitive of the racial discrimination he saw in the United States. He championed the rights of African Americans and was a member of the NAACP. When the famed black singer Marian Anderson came to perform at Princeton in 1937 and was denied a hotel room, Einstein invited her to stay in his home. He was also pen pals with W.E.B. Du Bois and, when Du Bois became the target of the Red Scare, Einstein effectively saved Du Bois by offering to be his character witness. In a 1946 speech he delivered at Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, he called segregation "a disease of white people," vowing, "I do not intend be quiet about it."

18. Einstein was the inspiration for Yoda.

Yoda's face was partly modeled after Einstein's. According to Star Wars special-effects artist Nick Maley, "A picture of Einstein ended up on the wall behind the Yoda sculptures and the wrinkles around Einstein's eyes somehow got worked into the Yoda design. Over the course of this evolutionary process Yoda slowly changed from a comparatively spritely [sic], tall, skinny, grasshopper kind of character into the old wise spirited gnome that we all know today."

19. Einstein's theories are more relevant than you think.

It's easy to assume that Einstein's theories of relativity are purely theoretical, but they really do affect your everyday life. For instance, the theory of general relativity states that gravity affects time: Time moves by faster for objects in space than objects here on Earth. And that has profound implications for many space-based technologies, especially the accuracy of your GPS. His theories also explain how electromagnets work and are foundational to nuclear technology.

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

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