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The Genius Engineer Behind the Super Soaker

We may be dating ourselves here, but we can remember the days before the Super Soaker. Those were dark times, when most water guns were flimsy, transparent pistols that dribbled as much as they sprayed. Fortunately, today’s children will not have to suffer as we did; they will never know a world without Super Soakers. For that, we can thank Lonnie Johnson.

Despite the massive success of his pump-powered water cannon, Johnson would not describe himself as a toymaker—he’s an engineer, through and through. His love of engineering started early; as a child, he built a lawnmower-go-kart hybrid and nearly burned down the house while trying to brew his own rocket fuel.

Growing up in the South during the 1960s and '70s, Johnson faced tremendous obstacles. Among other injustices, Johnson was barred from academic institutions and warned not to aim too high. Still, he kept his eyes on the stars and, by 1975, Johnson had a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. Over the next few decades, he would put his brilliant mind and perseverance to work for the Air Force Weapons Laboratory, NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter, and Strategic Air Command, where he helped design the first stealth bombers.

In 1982, Johnson was experimenting with different nozzle shapes and pressures on a heat pump prototype when it shot a powerful stream of water across the bathroom. The idea for the Super Soaker sprouted from that moment, and several years, pitches, and patents later, the toy finally entered the market.

Today, Johnson has his name on nearly 100 patents, including a moisture-sensing diaper alarm, a wall-mounted mailbox, a flashlight attachment for a cordless drill, and a whole lot of very advanced technology. His ideas have helped advance aeronautics and space exploration. He also has made summer a lot more fun—but you already knew that.

Header image via YouTube // Great Big Story.

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26 Facts About LEGO Bricks

Since it first added plastic, interlocking bricks to its lineup, the Danish toy company LEGO (from the words Leg Godt for “play well”) has inspired builders of all ages to bring their most imaginative designs to life. Sets have ranged in size from scenes that can be assembled in a few minutes to 5000-piece behemoths depicting famous landmarks. And tinkerers aren’t limited to the sets they find in stores. One of the largest LEGO creations was a life-sized home in the UK that required 3.2 million tiny bricks to construct.

In this episode of the List Show, John Green lays out 26 playful facts about one of the world’s most beloved toy brands. To hear about the LEGO black market, the vault containing every LEGO set ever released, and more, check out the video above then subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with the latest flossy content.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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