CLOSE

The Alchemist Who Discovered Phosphorus in Pee

Today we generally think of urine as a waste product, but in the 17th century, at least one alchemist thought it could be as precious as gold. OK, he literally thought it could be gold.

In 1669, German alchemist Hennig Brand boiled 1500 gallons of urine in his basement laboratory, convinced that the foul-smelling brew would somehow transmute into gold at the end of his process. Brand failed to find any precious metal at the bottom of his containers, of course, but he did discover phosphorus—not that he had any idea that’s what it was. Although phosphorus is one of the building blocks of life, and would later go on to be an important component of both synthetic fertilizers and explosives, Brand just thought he’d found the philosopher’s stone. Check out Great Big Story’s charming video above for more on one of history’s great accidental discoveries.

Header images via Great Big Story/YouTube

arrow
video
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.

Original image
iStock
arrow
video
Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
Original image
iStock

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.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios