Nope. So inconsiderate! While your freeloading finned friend might not have remembered to buy you a birthday cake, he does remember a little more than common knowledge gives him credit for. It’s been said that goldfish have a memory span of three seconds, meaning every swim by the decorative mermaid is a new and exciting adventure in underwater flirtation. However, according to numerous studies, this is a myth. Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters challenged his goldfish to recognize color patterns and run an underwater obstacle course. A month later, the fish remembered the prompts, completing it easily without any help from Hyneman. A 2003 study at the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth trained fish to push a lever for food. When the lever was fixed to only work for one hour a day, the fish learned to only push it at the correct time, not even bothering with it for the rest of the day. So with that in mind, are you going to be a little more careful about what you say in front of Goldie? Ix-nay on the Ushi-shay.
Not according to an eye witness account. Specifically, the account of Marco Polo, who discovered actual, living unicorns during his world travels. He was less than impressed. It turns out that unicorns did indeed have a single horn jutting from their foreheads, but in general were, “ugly brutes to look at.” He described them as, “scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s… They have a head like a wild boar’s.” Popular understanding at the time suggested that unicorns would be creatures of such purity that they could be tamed only by the fairest virgin damsels. Polo, however, found that, “they spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime.” Scarcely the stuff that dreams are made of. Perhaps that’s the reason why they were renamed. Today you can find unicorns in almost any zoo, but they have been re-branded as “rhinoceros.”
Despite the pristine lines and immaculate thinking behind his remarkable artworks, Michelangelo Buonarroti was the quintessential uncouth genius and cared little about the tidiness of his studio or even his personal hygiene. According to biographer Peolo Giovio, “His domestic habits were incredibly squalid, and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him.” The Renaissance master also rarely bathed, and often slept fully clothed, down to his boots. In fact, while sculpting his marble masterpiece David in the early sixteenth century, he didn’t take his boots off for two years straight!
That unmistakable aroma you get when you open a well-loved tome is a result of chemistry. As a book ages, the glue, paper, and ink begin to break down and release volatile compounds. A study in 2009 found that the chemical makeup of a book’s aroma consisted of hundreds of these compounds, giving it an organic mustiness with grassy notes. One main compound is lignin, which is present in all wood-based paper. Lignin is closely related to vanillin, which is what lends that faint, comforting smell of vanilla. No wonder curling up with an old book and a cup of tea sounds so inviting.
If you’re a true, diehard American, then there’s a good chance that your weekend is going to be pretty German. Germans were a major immigrant group in the United States up through the 19th century, and much of what we consider quintessentially American is actually a German import. Got a beer in one hand and a frankfurter in the other? Both German. Also the sauerkraut on your dog, and potato salad on the side? German and German. Enjoying a picnic in the park while a brass band plays marches? No surprise—those were also popularized here by the Germans. In fact, you could argue that the whole concept of a weekend is thanks to German immigrants. Puritanical Americans often set aside Sunday as a day of worship instead of work. But the Germans brought with them a culture that prized organized recreation with the family, and during the heyday of their influx, public bandstands, civic orchestras, bandstands and sports clubs began to flourish—for which we give a hearty “Dankeschön!”
We’ve all experienced the devastating loss of freshly buttered toast. One careless knock off the plate, a case of…butterfingers…en route to your mouth, and the whole slice goes plummeting to its certain doom—almost always to land butter-side down. Conventional wisdom would suggest that you only stand a 50-50 chance of completely ruining breakfast. However, conventional wisdom does not take into account the nature of bread. Bread is made up of delicious pockets of air, which affect its drag as it falls. Cover up those pockets with butter, and you have a rotation situation, meaning (according to science) the bread is only able to rotate one and a half times on its way to your kitchen tile. If your table is standard height, this means you’ll probably be cleaning butter off the floor in the near future. So what’s a bruncher to do? After dropping 100 perfectly good pieces of toast, food science specialists determined that an eight-foot tall table would allow for a full 360-degree rotation, and the salvation of your morning carbohydrate. Incredibly tall toast fans rejoice!
Well, that seems like a bit of a personal question. But we can at least say that what dreams you do have may in fact be under the influence of cheese. It has long been believed that cheese before bed would result in vivid nightmares, as seen in Winsor McCay’s 1904 comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, or in A Christmas Carol when Charles Dickens has his character Ebeneezer Scrooge blame his ghostly visions on an undigested crumb of cheese. However, science is shining a new light on this particular folklore. According to a 2005 study in the United Kingdom (which, it should be said, was sponsored by the British Dairy Board), not only did cheese not provoke nightmares, but variety of cheese before bed appeared to actually influence the kind of dreams one would have. Test subjects who sampled cheddar before bed reported high rates of dreams about celebrities. Stilton, a particularly potent blue cheese, apparently produced more bizarre, surreal dreams, while those who ate Red Leicester reported very restful sleep, and dreams about past events. Results may vary from person to person, of course, but the song may be true after all (with a slight variation to the lyrics): “Sweet dreams are made of cheese.”
From acing an interview to the perfect first date, the safest follow up to ensure a good outcome is a hearty knock on the nearest tree or tabletop. In a pinch, even shiny laminate or your loopy aunt tapping on her head for show can do the trick. Rooted in superstition, many believe that this practice stemmed from pagan Europeans raising a loud ruckus to chase away evil spirits from their homes and in trees. This noise would prevent them from hearing about or ruining a person’s good luck. Over time, the “ruckus” needed was reduced to a simple knock on wood, so either the spirits grew hard of hearing or we just got lazy. Either way, you’re going to nail that promotion—knock on wood.