Zalipie, Poland’s Prettiest Painted Village

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The best part about Zalipie isn’t that all the houses are covered in painted flowers. It’s that the town is engaged in an ongoing painted-flower-house contest.

About an hour and a half by car from Poland’s second-largest city, Krakow, you can follow the ornate floral-arrow signs to the vivid little village of Zalipie, where just about every home is festooned in flowers. The practice isn’t relegated to just private homes, though: You’ll also find barns, bridges, chicken coops, garbage cans, and even dog houses garnished with garlands. The town’s school and church are embellished with blooms as well.

Simon Astor

The story goes that the trend started over a century ago, as part of the preparations for religious festivals. Village women would commonly whitewash the area around their chimneys and wood-burning stoves to hide soot marks and make their homes look beautiful for the holiday, but even after the whitewash, dark soot was sometimes still visible. Eventually, thanks to some unknown genius, it became fashionable to paint flowers on the fresh whitewash to disguise the soot even further. And the flowers began to travel, from the insides of the houses to the outside, and across town. As the designs sprawled and spread across the houses, they became increasingly elaborate.

Even though Zalipie’s old-timey furnaces have long since been updated and concealing soot marks is no longer necessary, the flower-painting tradition has endured. It’s even become a friendly town-wide competition. Every year following Corpus Christi, in late May or early June, the town’s women—men only occasionally participate—face off in a house-flower-painting contest. (The time of year is said to have been chosen because it’s when the farm work lets up a little.) The Zalipians also touch up the flowers painted the year before, another holdover from olden times, when their paint was made with cooking fat and needed to be repainted almost from scratch annually. Although the painting tradition started informally, the contest itself was introduced by the Polish government to cheer up its citizenry after World War II. Known as Malowana Chata (Painted Cottage) competition, it became an annual event in 1965.

Simon Astor

Felicja Curyłowa is largely credited for taking the flower fad to its current height. Although she didn’t come up with the idea originally, the Zalipie resident was such an enthusiastic posy-painter that she adorned almost every surface of her three-bedroom cottage with flowers. After she died in 1974, her home was turned into a museum, where her designs can be seen today. Curyłowa pretty much went all out with it, painting everything from her spoons to her light bulbs, and her house is perhaps the most charming among the impressive contenders—if not, then certainly the most thoroughly saturated with blossoms.

Zalipie museum. Image credit: mksfca, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It should be said that Zalipie is a bit of a chore to get to on the bus, and the homes themselves are somewhat scattered apart, so it’s no good for travelers on foot, but it’s worth it to drive out there if you have a car. Fortunately, you’ve probably got some time, as the delightful folk-art tradition is still in full swing and shows no sign of stopping. With any luck, this florescent little Polish community will stick around intact for many more years to come.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Art

Are You Smart Enough to Pass Thomas Edison's Impossible Employment Test?

 Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

If you thought Elon Musk's favorite question to ask job applicants was tough, you should see the employment test devised by Thomas Edison. When he wasn't busy inventing the light bulb or phonograph, or feuding with Nikola Tesla, Edison was apparently devising a trivia test of nearly impossible proportions.

As Smithsonian reports, the 146-question quiz was designed to weed out the candidates who would be ill-suited to work at his plant, which was a desirable place to get a job in 1921. College degrees didn't impress him much—"Men who have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant," he once remarked—so he needed to find a more effective method of determining prospective employees' knowledge.

The test may have been too effective, though. Of the 718 applicants who took the test, only 57 achieved a passing score of 70 percent, and only 32 scored Edison's desired result of 90 percent or higher. This was certainly frustrating to applicants who considered themselves to be pretty well-educated. An unsuccessful applicant named Charles Hansen, who shared all of the questions he remembered with The New York Times in 1921, called the test a "silly examination." Another applicant said it was "not a Tom Edison but a Tom Foolery test" [PDF].

After the test questions became public knowledge, reporters went out and started polling people to see how well they'd do on Edison's test. Albert Einstein reportedly failed (he didn't know the speed of sound offhand), as did Edison's youngest son, who was a student at MIT at the time.

If you want to challenge yourself, check out a few of the questions below, then scroll down to see the answers that appeared in The New York Times. (Note: The answers given were the correct answers in 1921, but some may have changed since then. Some questions and answers have been edited lightly for clarity.)

1. What city in the United States is noted for making laundry machines?

2. In what country other than Australia are kangaroos found?

3. What region do we get prunes from?

4. Name a large inland body of water that has no outlet.

5. What state is the largest? The next?

6. What is the name of a famous violin maker?

7. What ingredients are in the best white paint?

8. What causes the tides?

9. To what is the change of seasons due?

10. Who discovered the South Pole?

11. How fast does light travel per foot per second?

12. Of what kind of wood are axe handles made?

13. What cereal is used all over the world?

14. Name three powerful poisons.

15. Why is a Fahrenheit thermometer called Fahrenheit?

Feeling stumped? Scroll down to see the answers.

1. Chicago

2. New Guinea

3. Prunes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley and elsewhere.

4. The Great Salt Lake, for example

5. Texas, then California (Note: Today it's Alaska, then Texas)

6. Stradivarius

7. Linseed oil, with a small percentage of turpentine and liquid dryer, together with a mixture of white lead and zinc oxide

8. The gravitational pull of the moon exerted powerfully on the ocean because of its fluidity, and weakly on the Earth because of its comparative rigidity.

9. To the inclination of the Earth to the plane of the ecliptic. In the Earth's revolution around the Sun, this causes the Sun's rays to be received at varying inclinations, with consequent variations of temperature.

10. Roald Amundsen, and then Robert Falcon Scott

11. Approximately 186,700 miles a second in a vacuum and slightly less through atmosphere.

12. Ash is generally used in the East and hickory in the West.

13. No cereal is used in all parts of the world. Wheat is used most extensively, with rice and corn next.

14. Cyanide of potassium, strychnine, and arsenic are all acceptable answers.

15. It is named after Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, the German physicist who invented it.

For the full list of questions and answers, check out Paleofuture's article about the test on Gizmodo.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Why is North Always Up on Maps?

iStock/Princessdlaf
iStock/Princessdlaf

Geophysicists recently updated the World Magnetic Model—navigational data used for everything from cell phones to satellites—and found that magnetic north, a spot once located in Arctic Canada, is moving quickly toward Siberia. But even this discovery doesn't quite explain why maps always feature north at the top.

There’s nothing inherently upward about north. Some early Egyptian maps put south on top, while in medieval Europe, Christian cartographers tended to give that distinction to east, since you had to turn that way to face Jerusalem. Others placed east on top because of the rising Sun (that’s why we orient ourselves). And early American settlers sometimes used maps with west on top, because that was the direction they were often heading.

If anyone deserves the blame for today’s northward bias, it’s Claudius Ptolemy. In the 2nd century, he wrote the influential Geographia, which featured a “global” map with north on top. No one’s positive why he positioned it that way, but it may be that the Library of Alexandria—where he did his research—simply didn’t have much information on the Southern Hemisphere. During the Renaissance, Ptolemy’s work was revived. By then, the phenomenon of magnetic north had been discovered, making his layout even more appealing to mapmakers.

The magnetic north pole, however, was not located until 1831. On an otherwise disastrous expedition to Arctic, British explorer James Clark Ross discovered the pole—the spot where a compass needle on a horizontal axis points straight down—on the west coast of Canada's Boothia peninsula. "I must leave it to others to imagine the elation of mind with which we found ourselves now at length arrived at this great object of our ambition," Ross recalled. "Nothing now remained for us but to return home and be happy for the rest of our days."

This story was originally published in 2014.

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