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Mental Floss: Scatterbrained

Mental Floss: Scatterbrained

by Editors of Mental Floss, Gre, Will Hickman, Ransom Riggs, John Green (Editor)

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The bathroom read to end all bathroom reads!

What does Greece (the country) have to do with Grease (the movie)? And what does Grease (the movie) have to do with greasy food? Plenty, if you ask the folks at mental_floss.

Based on the magazine's "Scatterbrained" section, the mental_floss gang has taken on the Mount Everest of trivia


The bathroom read to end all bathroom reads!

What does Greece (the country) have to do with Grease (the movie)? And what does Grease (the movie) have to do with greasy food? Plenty, if you ask the folks at mental_floss.

Based on the magazine's "Scatterbrained" section, the mental_floss gang has taken on the Mount Everest of trivia challenges: connecting the entire world through the juiciest facts they could find. How do you get from Puppies to Stalin; from Humpty Dumpty to Elizabeth Taylor; from the Hundred Years' War to 8 Minute Abs; or even from Schoolhouse Rock to Abstract Expressionism? You'll just have to open up the book to find out.

Editorial Reviews

“The titans of trivia.”
Calgary Herald
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Washington Post
“A delightfully eccentric and eclectic new magazine.”
Charlotte Observer
“Part scholarly journal, part Spy magazine protégé.”
Based on a popular feature in mental_floss magazine, Scatterbrained regathers facts in a most entertaining way. For example, the opening chapter begins with riffs on Greek marathons, the world's longest national anthem (158 stanzas), and the Father of the Pap Smear. From there, the book launches into discussions of toga parties, methods of execution, and the meaning of Latin phrases.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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7.18(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

Mental Floss: Scatterbrained

By Virginia Editors of Mental Floss

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Virginia Editors of Mental Floss
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060882506

Chapter One

01 Greece (the Country):
The Only Facts You Need to Know

Everyone knows the story of the marathon: Some Greek guy ran for about 20 miles from the city of Marathon to neighboring Athens, whereupon he gasped, "Nike," and promptly died. (That wasn't an early form of product placement, just the Greek word for "victory.") You might not know, however, that at the first modern Olympics in 1896, the marathon distance was set at 24.85 miles (40 kilometers). So why is it 26.2 today? To please the King of England, of course! For the 1908 Olympics in London, the distance was lengthened to 26 miles so the course could go from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium and then lengthened another 385 yards so the race could finish right in front of Kind Edward VII's stadium box. Now you know whose name to curse when staggering those last miserable marathon steps.

The first winner of the modern Olympic marathon, incidentally, was a Greek. Spyridon Louis, a postal worker (who trained, we imagine, by running away from ferocious dogs). He finished in 2:58:50.

And you thought 99 bottles of beer on the wall was bad: The Greek national anthem, with its 158 stanzas, is the longest national anthemin the world.

If you've ever found yourself legs akimbo, feet in stirrups, wondering why they call it a "Pap" smear: Greek-American George Papanicolaou created the test, which has helped reduce cervical cancer fatality rates by almost 50 percent since its introduction in the 1940s. (For some reason, "Papanicolaou smear" never caught on.)

02 Means to an End:
Unpleasant Execution Methods Throughout History
(In Reverse Order of Preference!)

Ling Chi: A slow, excruciating death, implemented a millennium ago by China's Song dynasty, ling chi (or "slicing") entails a piecemeal disassembling of the arms and legs by knife, culminating in decapitation. On the upside, luckier victims got to indulge in a good bit of opium beforehand, as an act of mercy. We'd argue that a better act of mercy would be not to carve up living people, but that's just us. The good news is ling chi was abolished. The bad news is that it wasn't until 1905, only 900 years late.

Sawing: Employed by historical free spirits like Caligula, Spanish Inquisitors, and--whaddya know--the ancient Chinese, death by sawing is kind of like the horror franchise Saw, except more horrific and not a movie. The convicted was strung up by the feet and sawed in twain, beginning at the crotch; his upside-down position ensured a continuous flow of blood (or whatever blood remained) to the brain, so he barely had to miss a moment of the terror until it was over. Recipients included such heinous criminals as adulterers and sodomites, plus a few saints, maybe the prophet Isaiah, and any young woman thought to be carrying Satan in her womb. That's the thing about the Beelzebaby--you never can be too sure, so kudos to the Spanish, because during the entire Inquisition, Satan's spawn wasn't born even once.

Boiling Alive: Fairly self-explanatory. Historically, execution by boiling is far more widespread than you'd think. In fact, it was prevalent in the Roman Empire, ancient China, Egypt, throughout the Middle East (where to conserve water they used oil), classical Japan, 17th-century India, England under Henry VIII, and Uganda under Idi Amin in the 1970s. More recently, the gruesome act seemed relegated exclusively to members of the crustacean family---until an autopsy report emerged from Uzbekistan in 2002 implicating the practice in at least one political prisoner's demise.

Burning at the Stake: Particularly effective in the elimination of witches, heretics, Christians, Zoroastrians, Nordic thugs, British traitors (females only, please), homosexuals, and anyone else whose flesh is not flame-retardant, burning at the stake is the straightforward but reliable, the Toyota Corolla of capital punishment. Its advantages are obvious: It's easy to do--all you need is a stake and some burning--and it makes for a flashy public-service message. The upside of death by fire: You may die of carbon dioxide poisoning before you're engulfed by flame. The downside: You might not. Given the choice, we'd rather go like '30s movie star Lupe Velez, who committed suicide in 1944 by overdosing on sleeping pills and then reportedly drowning in her toilet. . . .

03 Toilet Facts

Toilets are like oxygen or boyfriends: You tend not to think much about them until the moment you can't find any. Maybe it's time to give your W.C. a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. After all, you probably don't notice but you pay respect to the porcelain god six to eight times per day, on average--or thirty to forty times per day, if you're a six-year-old on a road trip (just joshing, kids). That makes for 2,500 trips to Flushville per year, comprising an average of three full years of your life. That's enough time to get a law degree . . . if only you hadn't spent it reading mental_floss.

Nazi war criminal and Gestapo founder Hermann Göring despised toilet paper (seriously). He refused to use it and instead bought handkerchiefs in bulk.

In 1993, an Argentinian prankster switched the "Women's" and "Men's" signs in a series of public toilets. We don't see why this is particularly clever--the gender divide is the same whether you all go to Room A or Room B (except that women will get to peek at some urinals). Apparently, the Argentine government wasn't impressed by it either: They sentenced the bathroom bandit to three years in the clink (which supposedly left him flushed).

The separate stall, a welcome innovation if ever there was one, is a relatively modern concept. The Romans and Greeks, for instance, saw toilet time as a social occasion and sat down in groups at their open-air toilets. That brings us back to the Greeks, which brings us to . . .


Excerpted from Mental Floss: Scatterbrained by Virginia Editors of Mental Floss Copyright © 2006 by Virginia Editors of Mental Floss. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur met as first year students at Duke University. Ignoring the lures of law school and investment banking, the pair co-founded mental_floss and have been grinning ever since. Maggie Koerth-Baker is a freelance journalist and a former assistant editor at mental_floss magazine, where she consistently astounded Will and Mangesh with her amazingness.

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