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13 of the Luckiest People in History

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The concept of luck seems to be a catchall for things we just can’t explain—like surviving deadly experiences or happening upon world-altering inventions. Even though we don’t know why, some people just seem to have more luck than others.

1. TEDDY ROOSEVELT

Former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt had a reputation for being a stubborn fighter, which might have some weight considering he survived an up-close assassination attempt and lived to tell the tale (or rather, continue on with his day). On October 14, 1912, Roosevelt was leaving a Milwaukee hotel for a campaign stop, where he was shot in the chest by John Schrank, a New York City saloonkeeper. Schrank’s bullet was lodged in Roosevelt’s rib, but it had been slowed by the 50-page speech and eyeglass case tucked in his coat pocket. Roosevelt refused medical attention and addressed his audience with a 90-minute speech, saying “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose.”

2. VESNA VULOVIC

Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was incorrectly scheduled to work on January 26, 1972. Mistaken for another coworker named Vesna, Vulovic went to work greeting passengers onboard a flight from Copenhagen back to Yugoslavia. But within an hour, she laid among aircraft wreckage in Czechoslovakia, the sole survivor of a plane explosion that killed 27 people. In the crash landing, Vulovic allegedly fell 33,300 feet, trapped inside the plane’s fuselage. While she was initially paralyzed and sustained a variety of broken bones and fractures (she spent 16 months in the hospital after the incident), Vulovic fully recovered without any memory of the fall. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Vulovic for the "Highest Fall Survived Without a Parachute," though recent investigators believe crash details were altered for propaganda uses.

3. ADOLPHE SAX

Belgian musician and inventor Adolphe Sax is best known for his reedy, namesake instrument: the saxophone. The son of a carpenter and instrument maker, Sax’s early 1800s childhood was put to use perfecting already popular instruments like the clarinet and using improvements to dream up his own inventions (cue the saxtuba and saxhorn). While Sax is known for his contributions to musical history, what many don’t know is how often he escaped death. As a toddler, Sax fell the “height of three floors” before hitting his head on a rock, and was initially believed to be dead. By 3 years old, he had drank a bowl of sulfuric acid and swallowed a needle. Sax also endured serious burns from a gunpowder explosion and a cast iron frying pan, later almost suffocating in his sleep from heavy varnish fumes. Falling cobblestones and a near-drowning in a river round out some of Sax’s childhood mishaps. Sax’s mother, Marie-Joseph Sax, certainly noticed the pattern. “He’s a child condemned to misfortune," she once said. "He won't live." (She was wrong. He lived to be 79.)

4. ROY SULLIVAN

The odds of being struck by lighting during your lifetime are 1 in 12,000. But this probably came as little comfort to park ranger Roy Sullivan, who survived seven lightning strikes over the course of 35 years. Sullivan’s first encounter with lightning occurred in 1942 when he ran through a storm in Shenandoah National Park. Additional lightning hits followed in 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1976, and 1977. Sullivan’s relationship with lightning led to a variety of jokes and rumors, including a rumor that he kept lightning rods on his four-poster bed. Sullivan died in 1983 at the age of 71, but not from lightning—sadly, it was from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

5. LUDGER SYLBARIS

Ludger Sylbaris was known in the early 1900s for his sideshow tales of surviving a volcanic eruption on the island of Martinique. And while some of his embellishments (suggesting he was the only survivor of the eruption) weren’t quite true, Sylbaris did in fact survive Mount Pelée’s eruption in 1902—and it’s because he was in jail. Sylbaris was known for drinking and fighting, which landed him in a stone jail cell in the town of Saint-Pierre. The morning after his arrest, Mt. Pelée erupted, destroying the town and killing an estimated 30,0000 people. Sylbaris was shielded from flying debris and much of the heat in his partially underground jail cell, but still had severe burns when he was discovered by rescue teams four days later. Sylbaris used his near-death experience for a chance at fame, touring with the Barnum and Bailey Circus as “The Man Who Lived Through Doomsday.”

6. CHARLES XIV JOHN OF SWEDEN

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Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was born the son of a French lawyer in 1763, but died as King of Sweden—mostly because he was a nice guy. Bernadotte had a lengthy military career and turbulent relationship with Napoleon that saw him leading military campaigns through Germany and Italy. While there, he kept a handle on his troops, refusing to allow looting and theft, which gained Bernadotte respect from his adversaries, though later unsuccessful battles in Bernadotte’s career led to distrust from Parisian politicians in the early 1800s. In 1810, an ill and childless King Charles XIII led Sweden to conduct a star-search of sorts for an heir, and Bernadotte was offered the role of Sweden’s crown prince. Bernadotte was selected because of his military experience, but also due to the kindness and restraint he showed to Swedish solders during his military campaigns. Bernadotte adopted the name Charles XIV John and led Sweden following Charles XIII’s death in 1818 until his own death in 1844.

7. LEONARD THOMPSON

In 1922, doctors took a risk to save 14-year-old Leonard Thompson’s life by injecting him with an experimental substance: insulin. The young diabetic only weighed 65 pounds due to a starvation diet (the only treatment for diabetes at the time), and he was falling in and out of a coma. His parents were desperate for a solution, and though insulin was experimental and had not yet been tested on humans, they took a leap of faith and let the doctors inject Thompson with the mysterious drug. The first round of injections caused an allergic reaction in the boy, but after 12 days of tinkering, a purer insulin was extracted. Thompson's recovery was immediate, and within a month, front-pages were touting the new miracle drug.

8. GEORGE WASHINGTON

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Washington’s famous Delaware River crossing helped win the Revolutionary War, but it could have—and really, should have—been foiled. On Christmas evening 1776, Washington moved 5400 men across the river as a surprise maneuver against Hessian troops. The strategy worked, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all because the Hessians had advance warning. Two Patriot deserters warned Hessian commander Col. Johann Rall the day prior about an imminent river crossing, but he dismissed the report as unlikely, probably due to countless false alarms. What’s more, a red coat spy in Washington’s camp passed along word of the attack, but again, Rall believed that if Patriot troops really did make an attempt, they would be easily fought off. Luckily for Washington, history shows it didn’t work out like Rall thought it would.

9. CONSTANTIN FAHLBERG

Chemist Constantin Fahlberg secured himself a sweet spot in history, all by accident. While Fahlberg takes much of the credit (and took much of the profit) for creating artificial sweeteners, he wasn’t the first scientist to discover saccharin. But, he was the first chemist to realize that saccharin was a sweet and edible chemistry accident that could be used in place of sugar. Legend has it that after working in his lab, Fahlberg ate a roll, which tasted sweet because of saccharin residue on his hand. He rushed back to his lab to taste-test all of his instruments—the beakers and vials, etc.—until he could determine where the sweetness came from. Soon after his discovery, Fahlberg cut out his lab partner and filed patents for a mass-produced artificial sweetener that would go on to change the food industry.

10. HARRISON FORD

Hollywood legend Harrison Ford landed a lifetime of a luck during his younger years that spurred his acting career. Ford had an acting contract with Columbia and Universal studios, but he was primarily working as a carpenter. "I had helped George Lucas audition other actors for the principal parts, and with no expectation or indication that I might be considered for the part of Han," Ford said during a Reddit AMA (though he also had a part in Lucas's American Graffiti four years earlier). "I was quite surprised when I was offered the part." Lucas was impressed though, and the part effectively launched Ford's career.

11. JOAN GINTHER

Joan Ginther, a Texas mathematician living in Las Vegas, is often called the “luckiest woman in the world” because she’s won multimillion dollar jackpots not once or twice—but four times. Ginther’s wins have all taken place in her home state and raked in $20 million between 1993 and 2010. But because of Ginther’s background in statistics (she has a PhD from Stanford), there’s speculation that she’s not lucky at all, but rather knows how to play the odds just right.

12. CHARLES LINDBERGH

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They called him "Lucky Lindy" for a reason! Aviator Charles Lindbergh is best known for his solo transatlantic flight in 1927, but while Lindberg’s iconic trip was successful, his piloting history before that flight included four crashes: two in 1924 and two in 1926. He safely parachuted from each plummeting plane and went on to credit just how important a working chute was. “There is a saying in the service about the parachute: ‘If you need it and haven’t got it, you’ll never need it again!’ That just about sums up its value to aviation,” he wrote.

13. ROBERT BOGUCKI

American tourist and former Alaskan firefighter Robert Bogucki became the subject of a manhunt when he disappeared into Western Australia’s Great Sandy Desert in July 1999. By the time the second search team found him (the first had been called off over two weeks before), Bogucki had spent 43 days wandering nearly 250 miles through the desert, eating plants and drinking collected groundwater. Upon his discovery, Bogucki told his rescuers he was ready to go home: “Yeah, well. Enough of this walking around.” Bogucki said he wasn’t quite sure why he ventured off into the desert (where wintertime temperatures often reach upward of 90 degrees—quite a departure from the Alaskan weather he was used to), but thought it might have been to placate his spiritual needs. “I do feel satisfied I scratched that itch, whatever it was,” he told reporters. For whatever reason, Bogucki sure got lucky.

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
15 Riveting Facts About Alan Turing
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

More than six decades after his death, Alan Turing’s life remains a point of fascination—even for people who have no interest in his groundbreaking work in computer science. He has been the subject of a play and an opera, and referenced in multiple novels and numerous musical albums. The Benedict Cumberbatch film about his life, The Imitation Game, received eight Oscar nominations. But just who was he in real life? Here are 15 facts you should know about Alan Turing, who was born on this day in 1912.

1. HE’S THE FATHER OF MODERN COMPUTER SCIENCE.

Turing essentially pioneered the idea of computer memory. In 1936, Turing published a seminal paper called “On Computable Numbers” [PDF], which The Washington Post has called “the founding document of the computer age.” In the philosophical article, he hypothesized that one day, we could build machines that could compute any problem that a human could, using 0s and 1s. Turing proposed single-task machines called Turing machines that would be capable of solving just one type of math problem, but a “universal computer” would be able to tackle any kind of problem thrown at it by storing instructional code in the computer’s memory. Turing’s ideas about memory storage and using a single machine to carry out all tasks laid the foundation for what would become the digital computer.

In 1945, while working for the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, he came up with the Automatic Computing Machine, the first digital computer with stored programs. Previous computers didn’t have electric memory storage, and had to be manually rewired to switch between different programs.

2. HE PLAYED A HUGE ROLE IN WINNING WORLD WAR II.

Turing began working at Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret headquarters for its codebreakers during World War II, in 1939. By one estimate, his work there may have cut the war short by up to two years. He’s credited with saving millions of lives.

Turing immediately got to work designing a codebreaking machine called the Bombe (an update of a previous Polish machine) with the help of his colleague Gordon Welchman. The Bombe shortened the steps required in decoding, and 200 of them were built for British use over the course of the war. They allowed codebreakers to decipher up to 4000 messages a day.

His greatest achievement was cracking the Enigma, a mechanical device used by the German army to encode secure messages. It proved nearly impossible to decrypt without the correct cipher, which the German forces changed every day. Turing worked to decipher German naval communications at a point when German U-boats were sinking ships carrying vital supplies across the Atlantic between Allied nations. In 1941, Turing and his team managed to decode the German Enigma messages, helping to steer Allied ships away from the German submarine attacks. In 1942, he traveled to the U.S. to help the Americans with their own codebreaking work.

3. HE BROKE THE RULES TO WRITE TO CHURCHILL.

Early on, Bletchley Park’s operations were hampered by a lack of resources, but pleas for better staffing were ignored by government officials. So, Alan Turing and several other codebreakers at Bletchley Park went over their heads to write directly to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. One of the codebreakers from Bletchley Park delivered the letter by hand in October 1941.

“Our reason for writing to you direct is that for months we have done everything that we possibly can through the normal channels, and that we despair of any early improvement without your intervention,” they wrote to Churchill [PDF]. “No doubt in the long run these particular requirements will be met, but meanwhile still more precious months will have been wasted, and as our needs are continually expanding we see little hope of ever being adequately staffed.”

In response, Churchill immediately fired off a missive to his chief of staff: “Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.”

4. HE HAD SOME ODD HABITS.

Like many geniuses, Turing was not without his eccentricities. He wore a gas mask while riding his bike to combat his allergies. Instead of fixing his bike’s faulty chain, he learned exactly when to dismount to secure it in place before it slipped off. He was known around Bletchley Park for chaining his tea mug to a radiator to prevent it from being taken by other staffers.

5. HE RODE HIS BIKE 60 MILES TO GET TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.

Though he was considered an average student, Turing was dedicated enough to his schooling that when a general strike prevented him from taking the train to his first day at his new elite boarding school, the 14-year-old rode his bike the 62 miles instead.

6. HE TRIED OUT FOR THE OLYMPICS.

Turing started running as a schoolboy and continued throughout his life, regularly running the 31 miles between Cambridge and Ely while he was a fellow at King’s College. During World War II, he occasionally ran the 40 miles between London and Bletchley Park for meetings.

He almost became an Olympic athlete, too. He came in fifth place at a qualifying marathon for the 1948 Olympics with a 2-hour, 46-minute finish (11 minutes slower than the 1948 Olympic marathon winner). However, a leg injury held back his athletic ambitions that year.

Afterward, he continued running for the Walton Athletic Club, though, and served as its vice president. ”I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard,” he once told the club’s secretary. “It's the only way I can get some release."

7. HE WAS PROSECUTED FOR BEING GAY.

In 1952, Turing was arrested after reporting a burglary in his home. In the course of the investigation, the police discovered Turing’s relationship with another man, Arnold Murray. Homosexual relationships were illegal in the UK at the time, and he was charged with “gross indecency.” He pled guilty on the advice of his lawyer, and opted to undergo chemical castration instead of serving time in jail.

8. THE GOVERNMENT ONLY RECENTLY APOLOGIZED FOR HIS CONVICTION …

In 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. “Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly,” Brown said. "This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue." Acknowledging Britain’s debt to Turing for his vital contributions to the war effort, he announced, “on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better."

His conviction was not actually pardoned, though, until 2013, when he received a rare royal pardon from the Queen of England.

9. … AND NAMED A LAW AFTER HIM.

Turing was only one of the many men who suffered after being prosecuted for their homosexuality under 19th-century British indecency laws. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK in 1967, but the previous convictions were never overturned. Turing’s Law, which went into effect in 2017, posthumously pardoned men who had been convicted for having consensual gay sex before the repeal. According to one of the activists who campaigned for the mass pardons, around 15,000 of the 65,000 gay men convicted under the outdated law are still alive.

10. HE POISONED HIMSELF … MAYBE.

There is still a bit of mystery surrounding Turing’s death at the age of 41. Turing died of cyanide poisoning, in what is widely believed to have been a suicide. Turing’s life had been turned upside down by his arrest. He lost his job and his security clearance. By order of the court, he had to take hormones intended to “cure” his homosexuality, which caused him to grow breasts and made him impotent. But not everyone is convinced that he died by suicide.

In 2012, Jack Copeland, a Turing scholar, argued that the evidence used to declare Turing’s death a suicide in 1954 would not be sufficient to close the case today. The half-eaten apple by his bedside, thought to be the source of his poisoning, was never tested for cyanide. There was still a to-do list on his desk, and his friends told the coroner at the time that he had seemed in good spirits. Turing’s mother, in fact, maintained that he probably accidentally poisoned himself while experimenting with the chemical in his home laboratory. (He was known to taste chemicals while identifying them, and could be careless with safety precautions.)

That line of inquiry is far more tame than some others, including one author’s theory that he was murdered by the FBI to cover up information that would have been damaging to the U.S.

11. HIS FULL GENIUS WASN’T KNOWN IN HIS LIFETIME.

Alan Turing was a well-respected mathematician in his time, but his contemporaries didn’t know the full extent of his contributions to the world. Turing’s work breaking the Enigma machine remained classified long after his death, meaning that his contributions to the war effort and to mathematics were only partially known to the public during his lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his instrumental role in the Allies' World War II victory became public with the declassification of the Enigma story. The actual techniques Turing used to decrypt the messages weren’t declassified until 2013, when two of his papers from Bletchley Park were released to the British National Archives.

12. THE TURING TEST IS STILL USED TO MEASURE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE …

Can a machine fool a human into thinking they are chatting with another person? That’s the crux of the Turing test, an idea developed by Turing in 1950 regarding how to measure artificial intelligence. Turing argued in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” [PDF] that the idea of machines “thinking” is not a useful way to evaluate artificial intelligence. Instead, Turing suggests “the imitation game,” a way to assess how successfully a machine can imitate human behavior. The best measure of artificial intelligence, then, is whether or not a computer can convince a person that it is human.

13. … BUT SOME CONSIDER IT TO BE AN OUTDATED IDEA.

As technology has progressed, some feel the Turing test is no longer a useful way to measure artificial intelligence. It’s cool to think about computers being able to talk just like a person, but new technology is opening up avenues for computers to express intelligence in other, more useful ways. A robot’s intelligence isn’t necessarily defined by whether it can fake being human—self-driving cars or programs that can mimic sounds based on images might not pass the Turing test, but they certainly have intelligence.

14. HE CREATED THE FIRST COMPUTER CHESS PROGRAM.

Inspired by the chess champions he worked with at Bletchley Park, Alan Turing created an algorithm for an early version of computer chess—although at that time, there was no computer to try it out on. Created with paper and pencil, the Turochamp program was designed to think two moves ahead, picking out the best moves possible. In 2012, Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov played against Turing’s algorithm, beating it in 16 moves. “I would compare it to an early caryou might laugh at them but it is still an incredible achievement," Kasparov said in a statement after the match-up.

15. THERE IS ALAN TURING MONOPOLY.

In 2012, Monopoly came out with an Alan Turing edition to celebrate the centennial of his birth. Turing had enjoyed playing Monopoly during his life, and the Turing-themed Monopoly edition was designed based on a hand-drawn board created in 1950 by his friend William Newman. Instead of hotels and houses, it featured huts and blocks inspired by Bletchley Park, and included never-before-published photos of Turing. (It’s hard to find, but there are still a few copies of the game on Amazon.)

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