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mental floss presents Instant Knowledge (Collins Gem)
By Juliet Editors of Mental Floss
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Juliet Editors of Mental Floss
All right reserved.
(especially those fond of the "devil's dandruff")
Useful for: cocktail parties, whenever the electricity goes out, and anytime you're in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Keywords: bikers, buggies, or blow
The Fact: Amish youths experiencing some requisite angst have plenty of ways to rebel (like oh, say, flipping on a light switch!), but these two guys really went above and beyond.
In June 1998, two members of the conservative Old Order Amish sect in Pennsylvania were arrested for buying and selling cocaine. The men, both named Abner Stoltzfus but not related, had apparently been riding their horse and buggy to meet up with a motorcycle gang known as the Pagans (seriously) and then distributing cocaine at their community hoedowns (honestly, we're not making this stuff up). Between 1993 and 1997, the wild and crazy pair reportedly purchased over $100,000 worth of cocaine.
(a.k.a. Chicken Throat for the Soul)
Useful for: waiting rooms, chatting up scientists, and hitting on pharmacists
Keywords: penicillin, Alexander Fleming, or chickens
The Fact: Believe it or not, biologist Selman Waksman discovered a revolutionary antibiotic in the back of a chicken's throat.
In the 1930s, Selman Waksman, working at Rutgers University, became interested in isolating antibiotics from fungi, hoping to find another "penicillin." To aid his quest, he asked his colleagues to send him samples of any unusual species they encountered. One day a farmer came to see a Rutgers veterinarian with a sick chicken in tow. All of his chickens, he said, were suffering from the same kind of disease as the sample. The vet found that the bird had a fungal throat infection, and remembering Waksman's request, he sent him a throat swab. From a culture of this fungus, Waksman eventually isolated streptomycin, an antibiotic that revolutionized the treatment of infections, particularly tuberculosis. So the next time you've got strep throat, make sure to thank a chicken for the cure.
Useful for: making small talk at the salad bar
Keywords: iron stomach, all you can eat, or I'm so hungry I could eat a plane
The Fact: Looking for inspiration when trying to down your mother-in-law's meat loaf? Just consider the story of Michel Lotito, the French gent who once ate an entire Cessna 150.
Yes, that's an entire plane we're talking about, and the guy who did it goes by the nickname Monsieur Mangetout (French for "eats everything." See what he did there?). Lotito engaged in the stunt to earn a place in the Guinness World Records (his actual record is for the Strangest Diet: 2 pounds of metal per day), but his iron stomach's downed a lot more than just a plane. He's also the proud eater of 18 bicycles, a bunch of TVs, a wooden coffin, and several supermarket shopping carts. Not to mention all the lightbulbs, razor blades, and other knickknacks he's downed on variety shows. Looking for a reason why you shouldn't try this at home (or with your home)? Well, Lotito's got a natural advantage because his stomach lining is twice as thick as a normal person's. He's also aided by the fact that he's French, which means he'll eat just about anything if prepared right (escargot, anyone?).
Arithmetic(you're not the only one who hates it)
Useful for: irritating your math teacher, impressing your (other) liberal arts profs, or just plain comforting anyone who hates math
Keywords: asymptote, parabola, or quadratic equations
The Fact: Despite the fact that it can be applied to just about everything, there's still no Nobel Prize given out for mathematics.
When dynamite inventor (that's not a comment on his abilities; he really did invent dynamite) Alfred Nobel stipulated in his will that his fortune be used to establish a fund to award five annual prizes "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind," he mysteriously left out math. And all kinds of theories have popped up to explain the omission, most of which claim that Nobel hated all mathematicians because his wife was schtupping one on the side. Nope. The most likely reasons for Nobel's ditching math are 1) He simply didn't like math all that much, and 2) Sweden already had a big, fancy prize for mathematics, from the journal Acta Mathematica. Although math is still a Nobel bridesmaid, a prize for economics was added in 1968, thereby giving the extremely boring sciences their due.
Asparagus(and your tee-tee)
Useful for: cocktail parties, explaining yourself at the urinal, and chatting up people from the Philadelphia Historical Society
Keywords: kites, Ben Franklin or "I really, really have to powder my nose"
The Fact: Who would have guessed that the genius who figured out that asparagus and unscented urine don't always go together was none other than Ben Franklin? Benjamin Franklin made many contributions to science, including bifocals, the Franklin stove, and lightning rods. But he was also the first to record that some people produced urine with a disagreeable odor after eating asparagus. You'll be grateful to know that the smell has now been identified and due to sulfur-containing compounds produced when asparagus is metabolized. It seems, however, that not everyone can generate these compounds. A study examined the urine of 115 people who dined on the green vegetable, and only 46 produced the smell. Strangely, not everyone can smell it either.
Excerpted from mental floss presents Instant Knowledge (Collins Gem) by Juliet Editors of Mental Floss Copyright © 2005 by Juliet Editors of Mental Floss. Excerpted by permission.
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