The Soviet Union decided the best way to show up the West was to build the biggest version of any given object.... READ ON
The Dilemma: You're at a football game and there's a large, cigar-shaped object hovering suspiciously close to you. Question: Is it a blimp or a zeppelin? And more important, why didn't you get better seats?... READ ON
These wonderful innovations made it easier to enjoy the simple pleasures of sinful idleness.... READ ON
The Dilemma: At a cocktail party, a nasty brute spills a drink on you. You'd like to compare his manners to those of a more primitive hominid. But which would be more insulting?... READ ON
Here's a formula for fun: Arm two superpowers to the teeth with thousands of nuclear warheads. Make sure they are deeply hostile and suspicious of each other. Now, cut off diplomatic communication, stir in about 50 smaller countries with their own agendas on each side, and you've got yourself a cold war!... READ ON
by Maggie... READ ON
Behind every good war are many good women. Using their feminine (and in at least one case masculine) wiles, the following five spies would make James Bond proud.
1. Mata... READ ON
EPA/ERIK S. LESSER /LANDOV
Tonight's Mega Millions jackpot is up over $500 million—the biggest lottery prize ever. Whether you call it the poor man’s dream, a casino without walls, or a tax on the stupid, the lottery has deep and widespread roots. Here’s a look at three quick stories about the numbers game.
Lotteries of Yore
Lotteries have been around as long as arithmetic. According to the Bible, God ordered Moses to use a lottery to divvy up land along the River Jordan (it’s in the Book of... READ ON
This past weekend, some daring criminals sauntered into the Marina del Rey Ritz-Carlton hotel and absconded with an original drawing by Rembrandt estimated to be worth $250,000. After a tip, the 17th-century sketch turned up in an Encino church about 20 miles away.
Since art heists are on the brain, here are six instances where the best of human artistry brought out the worst of human trickery.
1. When Greeks Lose Their... READ ON
Military turncoats come in all shapes and sizes, motivated by all sorts of considerations: power, revenge, disillusionment, and, most often, the sound of a little extra coin. But not every turncoat seems to bear the tarnished rep old Benedict Arnold came away with. The following are some of history's lesser-known traitors, but ones who were pleased with the results.
1. Flavius Josephus (ca.... READ ON
Every once in a while, a proud little community will sprout up just to let the world know how Utopia should be run. With chins raised almost as high as ideals, the community marches forth to be an example of perfection. But in most cases, all that harmonious marching gets tripped up pretty quickly. Here are four "perfect" communities that whizzed and sputtered thanks to human nature.
1. Brook Farm (or, Ripley's Follow Me or... READ ON
The Heene family's Balloon Boy hoax is still lingering in the news this week. Will charges be filed? Is a reality show in the works? Do you really care? We're guessing you don't. So instead, let's look back at four historical hoaxes.
1. The "Computer" That Outsmarted... READ ON
With New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's plagiarism scandal making headlines, we figured it was a good time to revisit a few other famous cases of word borrowing.
1. Martin Luther King Jr: I Heard a Dream (Which Subsequently Became My... READ ON
The first wheelchairs didn't just transport the disabled. They were also good for toting dirt, stone and construction supplies around... READ ON
The Dilemma: What Just Happened?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
People You Can Impress: fellow survivors
The Quick Trick: If you're standing in an absolute wasteland amid thousands of corpses, it was a nuclear bomb. If you're standing in a normal city street amid a moderate amount of inconvenience, it was a dirty nuclear bomb.
The Explanation: Here is the primary difference: Nuclear bombs have, in the past 70 years, killed hundreds of thousands of people. Dirty nuclear bombs have, in all of human... READ ON
Before utensils, everything was finger food. Here's how some of our common eating tools wound up on our placemats.... READ ON
No matter what you think of him, Napoleon certainly did a number on this world. And whether it's as the savior of revolutionary France or the scourge of Western civilization, his name keeps on keeping on. Of course, not everything "NapolÃ©on" adds luster to his legacy. Here are a few examples to prove it.
1. His Son: Napoleon II
Sadly, NapolÃ©on FranÃ§ois Joseph Charles Bonaparte (aka NapolÃ©on II, or, as we like to call him, "the Deuce"), never had a chance to... READ ON
This week, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was convicted of seven corruption charges, which complicates his bid for reelection next week. But as this list of crooked leaders proves, power and corruption are old friends.
1. Good Ol' Boss... READ ON
The Dilemma: You don't want to look like an idiot on Antiques Roadshow.
People You Can Impress: architecture buffs, art collectors, absinthe addicts, and flappers
The Quick Trick: It all comes down to "flowery" vs. "streamlined." Art Nouveau is the decorative one. Art Deco is sleeker.
The... READ ON
The wreckage of Steve Fossett's plane was located last month, but it's still too early to say with absolute certainty that Fossett's body has been found. (Partial remains are currently undergoing DNA analysis.) Here are five bodies we still haven't stumbled across, even after all these years.
1. Ambrose Bierce... READ ON
Thomas Carlyle once called economics "a dismal science." Indeed, economists tend to be cautious and pedestrian, but can you blame them? After all, in these troubled times, who could sleep easy knowing these scary stories?
1. The Irish Potato... READ ON
The Dilemma: "What just stung me?!"
People You Can Impress: six-year-olds (maybe)
The Quick Trick: A bee can generally only sting you once, while hornets and wasps can sting multiple times.
The Explanation: The problem with elucidating the difference between wasps and hornets is that, at least according to most definitions of wasps, all hornets are wasps. So here's the... READ ON
The sagas of early medieval Iceland (written down between 1100 and 1300) are some of the great works of Western literature. Heck, they've got it all: lust, envy, large-scale violence, widespread failures. Plus, these charming tales are all set in a time when a man just had to do what a man (generally a man with anger-management issues and a club) had to do.
1. Hallgerd the Petty (Njal's Saga)
One of the bloodiest feuds in Icelandic history arose from the seating chart at a wedding, when... READ ON
Theodor Seuss Geisel wasn't actually a doctor (at least not until his alma mater, Dartmouth, gave him an honorary PhD), but his unique poetic meter and leap-off-the-page illustrations made him one of the most successful children's writers in history (over 220 million books sold). Here are five stories about the man behind such classics as The Cat in the Hat and Oh, the Places You'll... READ ON
The Dilemma: The guy sitting next to you at the bar keeps insisting that John Wayne Gacy wasn't a serial killer but a mass murderer, which is really creepy. But is he right?
People You Can Impress: Authors of true crime novels and suckers for semantics.
The Quick Trick: The creepy guy at the bar is full of it: Gacy was a serial killer because he committed many murders over a long period of time; mass murderers commit many murders all at once.
The difference here is all... READ ON
The Dilemma: Sure, your friend's been on the cover of Vogue a couple of times now, but does that make her legitimately super?
People You Can Impress: Supermodels!
The Quick Trick: A model gets arrested for snorting cocaine; a supermodel gets on the cover of People for snorting cocaine.
The... READ ON
The Dilemma: You're proud to be all three of these supposed insults! But you're wondering if one captures your brilliant essence better than the others.
People You Can Impress:Well, not cool kids, certainly. Face it—we're never going to impress those jerks.
The Quick Trick: Etymologically, geek probably equals carny, nerd probably equals Seussian animal, and dork probably equals what you might have called President Nixon if you were his close friend.
The Explanation:... READ ON
The Dilemma: You've got to defend your honor, you're just not exactly sure how.
Materials Needed: A tolerance for French words.
People You Can Impress: Your mortal enemy; Zorro; and fans of The Princess Bride.
The... READ ON
The Dilemma: Either you're a rabid AC/DC fan in search of lyrical meaning or you've got some pressing need to blow something up. Either way, we've got your answer.
People You Can Impress: demolition experts, mustachioed villains from silent movies, and Wile E. Coyote
The Quick Trick: If it's a white powder found in sticks, it's dynamite. If it's a yellow crystal, it's TNT. Use this little mnemonic to remember dynamite's inventor:... READ ON
Who shot J. R.? A scorned woman. Who gave Mr. Bobbitt a belated bris? A scorned woman. Who bested Buttafuoco? You guessed it. Those guys could have picked up a thing or two from these poor saps, who learned not to upset the fairer sex the hard way.
1. "Mrs. Jack... READ ON
If you're looking for some bank-breaking works of less-than-staggering genius, look no further. Not only were these five leaders plagued by terrible ideas, they never bothered to get their money's worth.
1. Caligula's Bridge (Over Very Troubled... READ ON
Whether you call it the poor man's dream, a casino without walls, or a tax on the stupid, the lottery has deep and widespread roots. Here's a look at five stories about the numbers game.1. Lotteries of YoreLotteries have been around as long as arithmetic. According to the Bible, God ordered Moses to use a lottery to divvy up land along the River Jordan (it's in the Book of Numbers, naturally). And that ain't all the "good book" has to say about it: lotteries are... READ ON
1. The... READ ON
People love art. In fact, some love it so much, they'll do anything they can to get their grubby hands on it. Here are six instances where the best of human artistry brought out the worst of human trickery.
1. When Greeks Lose Their... READ ON
The word radioactivity always seems to bring up a number of glowing concerns. But maybe it's time you got over your fears and warmed up to the idea. Here are some reasons to grin about radioactivity.
1. If You Aren't Radioactive, You Just Ain't... READ ON
There's lots to consider when planning a wedding: dresses, cakes, bands, halls...all of which can add up to a hefty bill for the parents of the bride (or, in some cultures, the groom). But perhaps those bellyaching about the substantial hit their bank account is about to take should pause to consider some of history's most outrageously lavish weddings. Suddenly dropping a few grand on a one-wear gown doesn't seem so bad, does it?
1. Attila the Hun and Ildico (453 CE)
Attila the Hun,... READ ON
The eye chart with the big "E" on top is called a Snellen Chart.