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A Brief History of Cootie Catchers

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A cootie catcher is full of carefully-folded dichotomies. It’s centuries-old origami performed by kids (usually), many of whom live far away from the device’s country of origin. Delicate in its construction, but usually (in my experience) scrawled over with crayons or colored pencils with clunky renderings. Full of secrets, mysteries, and fates, all of which your friend just wrote right in front of you.

It’s a playground pastime for the inactive mystics and gossips of school, or a way to pass the time in class. The cootie catching practice has endured through the years, though individual ones never did. They were pocketed by those who got what they wanted and wished to preserve it, those who didn’t and wished to conceal it. Left on a desk, trashed, or left behind for someone else to ponder what it all means.

If you were unlucky enough to never encounter a cootie catcher, let’s back things up to the beginning.

The fortune teller also goes by chatterbox, whirlybird, or salt cellar, and that last name is actually reflective of how the origami figure was first introduced to the United States. The 1928 book Fun with Paper Folding contained the “salt cellar,” which, when inverted from how we’re used to seeing it today, was meant to invoke a container that could hold and pour salt. The points of a cootie catcher become legs and the spaces for fingers open up to hold the salt.

The exact lineage and timeline for the introduction of the cootie catcher around the world is somewhat murky. Most sources suggest it’s possible that it appeared in Europe as early as the 17th century. It’s safe to say though that by the 1950s, cootie catchers had started to appear in England and the United States, and propagated from there. Today, the game is played all over the world, and each place has its own name for the fortune teller.

As for the name: Most sources believe the word “cootie” came from the Malay word kutu, meaning “dog tick,” and was brought back by British soldiers after World War I. Some books include mentions of the “cooties” as bugs or dots drawn into the center of the catcher, so the legs act as pincers, swallowing the germs up. Girls were often the ones ridding each other of said cooties, intermixed with the telling of each other's fortunes. (And, probably, doing the tried and true “Circle, circle, dot, dot, now I've got my cootie shot.”)

For first timers or those in need of a refresher course, here’s how to make your own cootie catcher, just in time for back to school.

Once the cootie catcher is built, you can use it both for grabbing cooties off of your friend (without worry of infecting yourself), then fill it with messages and use it to tell fortunes (that’s versatility!). When you’re ready to use it, the fortune teller prompts their subject with a series of choices from the catcher (usually in the form of colors, numbers, or pictures) that will lead to one of the eight flaps inside, each concealing a message. There are plenty of other videos out there on the internet that go into more detail if you need some assistance with your prescience.

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A Simple Trick For Figuring Out the Day of the Week For Any Given Date
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People typically remember anniversaries in terms of dates and years, not days of the week. If you can’t remember whether you got married on a Saturday or Sunday, or don't know which day of the week you were born on, there’s a simple arithmetic-based math trick to help you figure out sans calendar, according to It's Okay To Be Smart host Joe Hanson.

Mathematician John Conway invented the so-called Doomsday Algorithm to calculate the day of the week for any date in history. It hinges on several sets of rules, including that a handful of certain dates always share the same day of the week, no matter what year it is. (Example: April 4, June 6, August 8, October 10, December 12, and the last day of February all fall on a Wednesday in 2018.) Using this day—called an “anchor day”—among other instructions, you can figure out, step by step, the very day of the week you’re searching for.

Learn more about the Doomsday Algorithm in the video below (and if it’s still stumping you, check out It’s OK to Be Smart’s handy cheat sheet here).

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Pig Island: Sun, Sand, and Swine Await You in the Bahamas
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When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

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