Editor's Note: Reader Andrea recently asked if we could cover the history of traffic lights. Here's what we had in the archives.... READ ON
This short piece originally appeared as a sidebar in the mental_floss book 'In the Beginning: A Mouthwatering Guide to the Origins of Everything.'
Pretzel... READ ON
People have been writing words on paper for a lot longer than they've had convenient ways to firmly bind those pages together. As families wrap up their back-to-school shopping, let's take a look at the evolution of staples.
Attached at the... READ ON
A word to all the pre-teens out there who are suffering through constant taunts of "metalmouth": at least you're in good company. Braces go all the way back to the days of the mummies; some of them have been found with crude metal bands wrapped around their teeth. Archaeologists think those bands were connected by catgut, stretched taut to pull the teeth together. (Mmm, sanitary!) Hippocrates and Aristotle are both on record wondering about ways to straighten teeth, too, and the... READ ON
Given how many horrendous karaoke performances we've been subjected to, we weren't at all surprised to learn that the guy who invented the karaoke machine can't sing, can't read music, and plays the keyboards about as well as your average third-grader.
Songs in the Off-key of... READ ON
SPAM (The Food Item)
First, let's get the ingredients out of the way. SPAM is chopped pork shoulder meat with ham, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Unless, that is, it's SPAM Lite, in which case there's also some chicken thrown in there. Or SPAM Oven Roasted Turkey, which includes (we assume) turkey and is suitable for... READ ON
This marks the first time we've lumped together priests, soldiers and Playboy bunnies in one article. Common element: they all dress for success.
1. School... READ ON
Here's a look at the early days of some popular newspapers and magazines. We'll save the story of the humble dormitory origins of mental_floss for another time.
The New York... READ ON
For today's reading from In the Beginning: A Mouthwatering Guide to the Origins of Everything, let's take a look at the stories behind some of your favorite spices.
If you eat enough pepper you'll start to sweat, which explains why the ancients thought the stuff made an excellent medical treatment. The Chinese employed it as a treatment for malaria, cholera, and dysentery, while Indian monks used it as a sort of PowerBar: they swallowed small amounts of the stuff in hopes that it would... READ ON
Contrary to schoolyard rumors, no one created the periodic table just to torture you—it all started with the elements. As early as 330 BCE, Aristotle created a four-element table: earth, air, fire, and water. (We'd sign up for a test on that periodic table, no problem.) But it wasn't until the late 1700s that Antoine Lavoisier wrote the first list of 33 elements. He classified them as metals and nonmetals, though we now know that some were compounds or mixtures. Other... READ ON
To get the real story on fake breasts, let's open In The Beginning: A Mouthwatering Guide to the Origins of Everything and turn to the page on... READ ON
With the possible exception of politicians and small wooden puppets named Pinocchio, most people have a hard time lying with a straight face—and an even harder time lying successfully when their every move, breath, inflection of speech, and variation in blood pressure is being monitored.
While the accuracy of the modern lie detector, or polygraph machine, is considered dubious by many researchers—in 2002, the National Academy of Sciences determined the polygraph to be essentially... READ ON
With the financial world in a state of flux, we thought now was a good time to explore the early history of credit cards, checks, coins and paper money.
In the 1800s, you could pick your poison if you needed money: pawnbroker, realtor, friend, family member, illegal small loan lender, or mortgage lender. By 1858, consumer debt measured as high as $1.5 billion in the U.S., and it rose to $11 trillion just 32 years... READ ON
Here's a look at the stories behind some of our favorite instruments, from the tambourine to the sax.
1.... READ ON
Whether you call it "mini golf," "putt putt," or "a cheap date," the miniaturized sport has been popular since the 19th... READ ON
Simple, block-shaped toys have been around for hundreds of years, but it took a 20th-century Danish genius named Ole Kirk Christiansen to invent the interlocking pieces we know today as LEGO bricks. It all started in 1932 in the village of Billund, long before LEGO had achieved world domination as a brand.
A master joiner and carpenter, Christiansen opened a humble woodworking shop with his son Godtfred, just 12 years old at the time. They manufactured stepladders, ironing boards and later expanded to... READ ON
Next time someone asks you to pass the ketchup, mustard, mayo or Worcestershire sauce, you can wow them with your knowledge of the condiments.
The word "ketchup" comes from the Chinese "ke-tsiap," and if you're wondering why ketchup isn't used in Chinese food, well, there's your story. Ke-tsiap wasn't at all like ketchup. It was a sauce made from pickled fish that frankly wouldn't taste so great on a burger "“ or in our opinion on... READ ON
Talk about a serious leap of faith. The first land divers plunged head first toward hard soil, all in the name of... READ ON
Conceptually speaking, air conditioning has been around since the first primitive humans ducked into cool, damp caves to take refuge from summer heat. But aside from fans of various shapes and sizes, the technology of temperature control didn't progress beyond the stone age until the 1830s. That's when John Gorrie, a doctor from Florida, decided to do something about the stifling heat in his hospital, which he reasoned wasn't doing his malaria and yellow fever infected patients much... READ ON
On this date in 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received a patent for the process of putting rivets in pants, and modern jeans were born. But that's not the whole... READ ON
Fifty years ago today, the VelcroÂ® trademark was registered. Let's celebrate by taking a look back at the... READ ON
On May 6, 1889, the Eiffel Tower was opened to the public. Here's a little history.
Believe it or not, the Eiffel Tower was originally supposed to be in Barcelona. But thinking the thing would end up looking like an eyesore, the city rejected Gustave Eiffel's plans, and he was forced to repitch the project elsewhere. Luckily, Eiffel found a home for his idea in Paris, where the Tower could serve as the main archway for the 1889 International Exposition.
Amazingly, the Tower didn't exactly go over... READ ON
We've read their comics, watched their movies, TV shows and cartoons, and dressed like them for Halloween. But where did our favorite superheroes come... READ ON
From the Revolution up to the turn of the 20th century, America preferred that its presidential candidates be seen and not heard. The presidency was regarded as so solemn an office that it was considered indecent and prideful to aspire to. Instead, candidates were to approach nomination as if it were something that just happened to them—"Oh golly. Well, if the People say I must, I guess I have to!"
While the candidates had their hands full cultivating the self-effacing persona of an honest... READ ON
Reed Hastings was inspired to start Netflix after a $40 late fee on a VHS copy of Apollo 13.