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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff

The Great Smog of 1952  

Londoners are no stranger to the cold, but on the morning of December 5, 1952, the sting of winter was felt worse than ever. The cold had the British capital on a grip for weeks, and that morning a temperature inversion had caused the chilled and stagnant air to get trapped close to the ground, causing temperature to drop even further. As the city began to wake up, coal fireplaces were lighted in homes and businesses across the city to take the chill out of the morning air. Smoke from these he

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2021-02-22 16:44:00

Johann Josef Loschmidt And Avogadro's Number  

Johann Josef Loschmidt is a name that might not ring many bells, yet everyone who took chemistry in junior college had surely come across Loschmidt's groundbreaking contribution to science. Loschmidt calculated the exact number of elementary units (atoms or molecules) that one mole of a substance contains—a number that bears the name of an Italian scientist, which is unfortunate, because even this celebrated Italian scientist didn't know its value. That number is Avogadro's number, or ...

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2021-02-19 13:22:00

The Mad World of Hat Making  

Hat-making in the 18th and 19th centuries was a hazardous business, because it involved the use of many chemicals, one of which was the toxic substance mercury. Working in poorly ventilated rooms, hat-makers breathed in so much mercury fumes that a good number of them were driven out of their wits by mercury-induced brain damage. Mercury poisoning among hat-makers is widely believed to be the origin of the proverbial saying "mad as a hatter". Even the character of the Hatter in Lewis Carroll...

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2021-02-17 19:27:00

The Ingenuity of The 'Ha-Ha'  

What's in a wall but a simple structure to keep intruders out, you might say. But a surprising amount of thought goes behind the construction of some. One example is the crinkle-crankle wall, popular in the county of Suffolk, in east England. The alternating curves of the crinkle-crankle wall prevents the wall from toppling over without the need for buttressing. Another unusual wall is the quirkily named "Ha-Ha" that's found in many 18th century country estates around Britain. Photo: ...

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2021-02-16 21:08:00

Flettner Rotor: Sailing Ships Without Sails  

In 1926, a 2,000-ton steel-hulled schooner named Buckau made an extraordinary crossing across the Atlantic. Although the Buckau was technically a sailing ship, it had no sails—at least, not conventional ones. Rather than thin masts and billowing sheets of white, the Buckau had two huge cylinders that rose from its deck and spun. By a physical phenomenon called the Magnus Effect, the spinning poles generated a propulsive force that carried the ship forward. It's the same force that footballe...

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2021-02-15 12:24:00

Citizens! During Shelling This Side of The Street is The Most Dangerous  

The city of Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Russia and in eastern Europe, with a great ensemble of historic buildings, gilded palaces, and baroque bridges and churches. Founded by Peter the Great as a "window to Europe" Saint Petersburg's has a very cosmopolitan character, unique among Russian cities, but behind all the gilt and glory lurks a darker past, going back by less than eighty years, when Hitler had the city bombed, besieged and starved during the Second Wo...

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2021-02-12 22:07:00

The Curious Tale of The Laocoön And His Sons' Missing Arm  

The story of Laocoön, the Trojan priest who was attacked and killed along with his two sons by giant serpents for attempting to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse, is well-known in Greek mythology. Laocoön's tragic tale has been retold by numerous Greek poets such as Apollodorus and Quintus Smyrnaeus. The latter gave a detailed description of Laocoön's grisly fate in his epic poem Posthomerica. Laocoön was also mentioned by the famous Greek tragedian Sophocles, and by the Roman poet V...

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2021-02-11 11:00:00

The Largest War Memorial in The World is a 243 Kilometer Highway  

When the First World War ended, the soldiers who had participated in it and were lucky enough to survive, returned to their homes. As in all wars, some adapted better than others on their return, but many found themselves with the unpleasant situation of being unemployed. In the case of the Australian soldiers, those who landed on April 25, 1915 in Gallipoli and forced the Ottoman army to surrender in October 1918 with the capture of Gaza and Jerusalem, of the more than 300,000 sent to the fron

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2021-02-10 15:20:00

When Israel Erased Color From Television Broadcasts  

The first television broadcast in Israel was black and white, but unlike most nations, it wasn't due to the lack of technology to broadcast in color. As a matter of fact, when television first came to Israel in 1968, the world was already switching to color broadcast. But Israeli authorities were not sure. They thought color broadcast was a frivolous expense that should best be avoided. So despite having the capability to broadcast in color, Israel's only national channel deliberately erased...

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2021-02-08 19:32:00

London's Protected Views  

Many prominent landmarks in London, such as St Paul's Cathedral, the Monument to the Great Fire of London, the Tower of London, The Palace of Westminster, and others are visible from key locations around the city. St Paul's Cathedral, for instance, is visible from across the South Bank of the Thames as far away as Richmond Park. Although topography certainly plays a part here (St Paul's Cathedral being located at the highest point of the city), the unobstructed views that some of Lon

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2021-02-05 10:14:00

Giuseppe Ferlini: The Pyramid Destroyer  

If there is something that characterizes archeology, it is the care, the almost exquisite touch that is given to the sites and that makes a tool as simple and limited as a brush the protagonist of the excavations, making the archaeologist have to spend hours and hours in the sun, setting aside just a few inches of sand or dirt to make sure that no small piece is missed. But it was not always like this; In its beginnings, archeology sought to exhume remains of other civilizations at all costs and

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2021-02-04 11:58:00

William Walker: The Man Who Saved Winchester Cathedral  

More than a century ago, Winchester Cathedral, which is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and the longest of all Gothic cathedrals, was saved by the heroic work of a diver, who worked tirelessly to reinforce the foundations of this historic structure, and thus preserve one of the largest and most iconic buildings in all of England. The man was William Walker who saved Winchester Cathedral from collapsing into ruins, and by doing so he became a hero in the folklore of Winchester and for th

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2021-02-02 20:35:00

How Astronomer Percival Lowell Mistook His Own Eye For Spokes on Venus  

Percival Lowell, the American astronomer whose name bears an observatory in Arizona, made several very significant observations of the planets. His biggest contribution being the hunt for Planet X beyond the orbit of Neptune. Although his search was unsuccessful, Pluto was eventually discovered near the place Lowell had predicted the missing planet would be, using the very observatory Lowell founded to study Mars. The red planet fascinated Lowell, and it was his observations of Mars and the in

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2021-02-01 15:30:00

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab  

The 1950s were exciting times. There was much enthusiasm and optimism around the use of atomic energy, which was seen as the solution to all energy problems in the future. Power would be so cheap and plenty that humans could achieve things at scale that was not economically and practically possible in the past, such as irrigation of deserts and interstellar travel. While many people feared the dawn of the Atomic Age due to the destructive power of the atomic bomb, there were many others who beli

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2021-01-28 23:18:00

Shoeburyness Boom: A Cold War Era Defense Across The Thames  

At first glance, the concrete piles lying off the coast of southeast Essex, near the town of Shoeburyness, looks like the exposed columns of an old pier, but in reality is a defensive structure erected across the mouth of river Thames to prevent ships from crossing into. At one time, this so called "boom" extended all the way to the other side of the water channel to Sheerness in the Isle of Sheppey. The Shoeburyness boom across Thames estuary. Photo: Andy119/ © Am...

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2021-01-27 13:51:00

The Silver Tree of Karakorum  

Of all the things described in William of Rubruck's account of his travels through 13th-century Asia, perhaps none is so striking as the remarkably ornate fountain he encountered in the Mongol capital which — complete with silver fruit and an angelic automaton — flowed with various alcoholic drinks for the grandson of Genghis Khan and guests. Devon Field explores how this Silver Tree of Karakorum became a potent symbol, not only of the Mongol Empire's imperial might, but also its dow...

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2021-01-26 16:18:00

Mäusebunker: Berlin's Mouse Bunker  

Sitting squarely in the middle of Berlin is a monstrous-looking building with façade of solid grey concrete, punctured by long ventilation turrets that sticks out in all direction like some sort of a beached battleship. This is Mäusebunker, or "Mouse Bunker", a Brutalist former animal research laboratory that at some point held over 45,000 mice and 20,000 rats along with a variety of other rodents. Officially the Central Animal Laboratory of the Free University of Berlin, the Mäusebunker...

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2021-01-25 20:34:00

Spindletop: The Gusher That Launched The Oil Industry  

Although the modern oil industry is said to have begun with the drilling of the first oil well by Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania, it was the discovery of oil at Spindletop in Beaumont, Texas, that pushed the world into the age of crude oil. The exact date when this happened is January 10, 1901. That day, an enormous geyser of oil exploded from a drilling site at Spindletop Hill coating the landscape with a thick slimy mess for hundreds of feet. Nobody had seen a gusher so powerful and so plentifu

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2021-01-22 10:27:00

The Helfaut-Wizernes Dome  

In the Pas-de-Calais department of northern France, close to the commune of Helfaut and Wizernes, lies a large Nazi bunker built during the Second World War. The most prominent feature of this bunker complex is an immense concrete dome, from which the complex derives its name—La Coupole, or "The Dome" in English. La Couple, codenamed "Bauvohaben 21", was built to serve as a launch base for V-2 rockets directed against London and southern England, and is the earliest known precursor to ...

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2021-01-20 12:32:00

Why The Soviet Union Exchanged Warships For Pepsi  

The American soft drink giant Pepsi has a long presence in Russia dating back to the early 1970s when Russia was still a part of the Soviet Union. It was the first capitalistic product to gain entry into the communist market. At that time rivalry between the two countries was high, so how did an American soft drink company get its foot in the door to build a major market in Russia? Bottles of Soviet Pepsi at a Moscow-based plant, 1991. Photo: Vladimir Akimov/Sputnik © Amusing Planet, 2

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2021-01-18 15:04:00

San Francisco's Hidden Cisterns  

Scattered around San Francisco are a total of 177 large cisterns buried beneath the streets. Their presence is visible at many intersections in the shape of large brick circles embedded in the pavement. These cisterns hold the city's emergency water supply, to be used should the city's domestic water supply fail in the event of a nasty fire. San Francisco is the only city in the world to have such a system. The cisterns form an integral part of the city's Auxiliary Water Supply System tha...

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2021-01-14 11:03:00

The Cave of Swimmers  

Thousands of years ago, the Sahara was surprisingly green with rich vegetation, trees and lakes that covered almost all of what is now sandy desert. There were vast open grasslands, forests, rivers, lakes and wetlands, that allowed a variety of animal species to survive. Antelopes, gazelles, giraffes, elephants, wildebeest, spotted hyenas, zebras and more roamed the savannah, while crocodiles baked in the river banks and hippos rolled in the mud. Evidence of the Sahara's amiable past is record...

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2021-01-12 11:30:00

The Victorian Mail Order Business  

In the beginning of the 19th century, a large Welsh town called Newtown on the River Severn became the center of the woolen industry. Like other towns in the upper Severn Valley, Newtown's population exploded within a short period, as mills jostled for a place by the riverside. Weavers paid extortionate rent to flannel manufacturers to live on the lower floors, the top floors being occupied by sophisticated machines such as the spinning jenny, that spun threads from wool in large open workshop...

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2021-01-11 11:00:00

Hells Bells  

Deep down El Zapote cenote, a 50-meter-deep water-filled sinkhole in Quintana Roo, Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula, stalactites take a different form. Instead of the usual elongated, pointed shape hanging from the roof of caves, the stalactites in El Zapote are conical and hollow resembling bells or lampshades. Divers call them "Hells Bells", after the song by the Australian hard rock band AC/DC. Photo: Eugenio Acevez/ Jerónimo Aviles © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-01-08 10:26:00

Talakadu: The Temple City Devoured by Sand  

The ancient city of Talakadu situated on the banks of the Kaveri river, about 45 km east of Mysore, was once the capital of the Western Ganga dynasty which ruled over Karnataka in southern India about a thousand years ago. The once flourishing city with over 30 temples now lies in ruins, devoured by sand when the Kaveri river shifted course. The loss of Talakadu is an unfortunate ecological disaster, but there are many who believe that an ancient curse is to blame. An excavated temple in Tala

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2021-01-07 11:44:00

Anderson Shelters: The Backyard Bunkers That Saved Britons From Luftwaffe Bombings  

In 1938, before the Second World War had even begun, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain placed Sir John Anderson in charge of air raid preparations. As the Lord Privy Seal, Anderson's responsibility was to organize civil defense such as air raid wardens, rescue squads, fire services, and the Women's Voluntary Service. He was also responsible for providing public shelters. Anderson commissioned engineers William Paterson and Oscar Carl Kerrison to design a small and cheap shelter tha...

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2021-01-05 22:02:00

The Granaries of Acorn Woodpecker  

Woodpeckers are fascinating creatures. They hammer their bills into wood with force so ferocious that it would lead to concussion in any animal. But woodpeckers are equipped with excellent natural shock absorbers that protect their brains against damage caused by rapid and repeated powerful blows, such as a tightly packed brain that prevents it from sloshing around the skull, which itself is composed of compressible sponge-like bone to absorb the energy of the impact, as well as an elongated ton

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2021-01-05 21:40:00

The Night The Moon Exploded  

In the early evening of 18 June 1178, five monks from Canterbury in southern England, reported having witnessed an unusual phenomenon in the sky. According to the monk Gervase, chronicler of the Abbey of Christ Church, the men were looking at a new crescent moon when they saw the upper part "split in two." Gervase wrote: From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the Moon which ...

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2021-01-04 18:09:00

Why Julius Caesar Built a Bridge Over The Rhine And Destroyed it 18 Days Later  

In the early summer of 55 BC Julius Caesar had already begun his conquest of Gaul three years earlier. At that time the eastern border of the new provinces was located on the Rhine. The Germanic tribes on the eastern side of the river launched incursions to the west under the protection provided by this natural border. But on the other side of the river there were also tribes allied with Rome, like the Ubians. They offered Caesar ships for the legions to cross the river and attack the Germanic

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2020-12-29 15:55:00

Balmis Expedition: How Orphans Took The Smallpox Vaccine Around The World  

The biggest hurdle to mass vaccination in the 19th century was keeping the virus alive out of the human body as the precious pus was being transported in sealed tubes to distant communities ravaging under smallpox. At a time when refrigeration, sterile containment, and asepsis were nonexistent, attempts were made to obtain the vaccine lymph dried onto silk threads or sealed between glass plates, but such methods proved unreliable on lengthy journeys and in warm climates. So when the need arose t

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2020-12-21 16:42:00

The Barbegal Mills: The Largest Concentration of Mechanical Energy in Antiquity  

About 12 kilometers north of the city of Arles, in the Provence region of southern France, is the small town of Fontvieille. It is a commune of just 3,500 inhabitants who live from agriculture and tourism, but until the 5th century AD it was also the place where the greatest concentration of mechanical energy was found in the entire ancient world. At the end of the first century A.D., the most important Roman hydraulic complex was built there, consisting of two aqueducts and 16 mills, today cal

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2020-12-18 11:11:00

Medieval Russians Built Churches in One Day to Ward Off Epidemics  

In the middle ages, many Russian communities, especially in the Novgorod and Pskov regions, believed in building churches as response to calamities raging at that time, most often epidemics. The tradition known as obydennye khramy requires that the church be completed within the course of a single day. These one-day votive churches were built by communal labor and were simple in design and small in size. Construction usually began at night and ended before sunset of the following day. By nightfa

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2020-12-17 10:57:00

Pitch Drop Experiment: The World's Longest Running Lab Experiment  

The pitch drop experiment began in 1927 when Professor Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, set out to demonstrate to his students that some substances that appear to be solid are in fact very high viscous fluids. He used tar pitch, or bitumen, a derivative of coal once used to waterproof boats, in an experiment to prove his point. At room temperature, pitch appears to be solid and can even shatter if hit with a hammer, but despite its look and feel, pitch can a

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2020-12-16 20:47:00

SS Baychimo: The Unsinkable Ghost Ship  

Ships aren't meant to sink, but sometimes you have to wonder what miraculous forces kept a vessel afloat. The SS Baychimo was such a ship. For nearly four decades after it was abandoned, this 1,300-ton cargo ship sailed the Arctic without fuel or crew, until it disappeared just over fifty years ago, but some believe she is still out there drifting among the frozen icebergs. SS Baychimo was launched in 1914, originally as Ångermanelfven, after one of Sweden's longest rivers, Ångerman. She ...

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2020-12-15 16:54:00

Franz Reichelt's Fatal Jump  

The British Pathe film archive has a chilling video of a man jumping to his death from the Eiffel Tower. The man in the short video is shown wearing some sort of an oversized suit. Standing on the ledge of the tower's first level, he hesitates for a few long seconds and then takes the plunge. He plummets straight down to the ground below. The man who took the fatal leap was Franz Reichelt, an Austrian-born French tailor, who owned a successful dressmaking business in Paris. Shortly after ope...

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2020-12-14 10:46:00

The Fighter Plane That Shot Itself Down  

Fighter aviation has come a long way from the crude old days when pilots shot down their own planes as often as the enemy's. In those early days pilots had to shoot their machine guns through the spinning blades of their aircraft's propellers. Many pilots ended up shooting holes through their propeller blades. This problem was solved with the invention of a synchronization gear, which prohibited the guns from firing when the spinning propeller was in the way of the muzzle. Modern fighter pl...

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2020-12-10 15:02:00

The Buried Village of Te Wairoa  

Until the late 19th century, the shores of Rotomahana, in northern New Zealand, were adorned by one of the most spectacular travertine terraces called the Pink and White Terraces. They were the largest travertine terraces in the world, created by the deposition of minerals from the nearby hot water springs. So wonderful were these terraces that they were called the 'eighth wonder of the natural world' and were New Zealand's most famous tourist attraction. On the morning of 10 June 1886...

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2020-12-10 15:00:00

The Fake Dome of The Church of St. Ignatius  

One of Rome's lesser-known attractions, the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Italian), lies just a block away from the Pantheon. This incredible 17th century baroque church has a towering façade that dominates the Piazza, and a lavishly decorated interior that's considered one of the best in the entirety of Rome. The first thing most visitors do when they step inside this church dedicated to the founder of the Jesuit order is look up at the sumptuo...

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2020-12-08 11:31:00

Henley-On-Todd: The Waterless Regatta  

Every August, Alice Springs, a large town in the heart of Australia's Northern Territory, holds an unusual boat race on Todd River, a river that's rarely wet. The "boats" are bottomless which enable the "rowers" to poke out their legs and run over the hot sands. The annual event sees hundreds of participants run along the dry riverbed in quirky boats fashioned out of metal frames in the shape of yachts, kayaks as well as regular rowing boats. The final event of the day, known as the ...

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2020-12-08 11:29:00

Saint Guinefort: The Holy Greyhound  

Around the second half of the 13th century, a Dominican friar known as Stephen of Bourbon, began travelling the width and breadth of southern France documenting medieval heresies, superstitious, and heretical beliefs, which he complied into one long treatise on faith called the De septem donis Spiritu Sancti ("On the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit"). On the subject of superstition and idolatry, Stephen relates an incident which occurred in the diocese of Lyon. While preaching there against s...

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2020-12-03 16:35:00

Gara Medouar: The 'Spectre' Crater  

The 1999 Hollywood movie The Mummy is set in Egypt, but was filmed largely in Morocco. Marrakech became the Cairo of 1926, the year the story takes place, and the lost city of "Hamunaptra" was set inside a vast horseshoe-shaped geological feature called Jebel Mudawwa, or Gara Medouar, located near Sijilmasa, in the southeast of the country. Gara Medouar appeared again in the sequel The Mummy Returns in 2001. The exotic location then became the evil lair of the Bond villain Franz Oberhauser i...

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2020-12-02 12:55:00

Sunomata Castle: The Castle That Was Built on a Single Night  

Sunomata Castle stands at the confluence of the Sai and Nagara rivers, in the city of Ōgaki in Gifu Prefecture. It's a typical Japanese castle with a strong foundation of stone and a multi-storied wooden building on top with a gable roof and decorated eaves. As far as castles go, Sunomata is very small, but it has a big story. Legend has it that the Sunomata Castle was built during the course of a single night. Sunomata Castle, also known as Ichiya Castle (or the "one night castle"), was...

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2020-12-01 14:25:00

The Yukon Square Inch Land Rush of 1955  

Marketers give away freebies all the time to generate buzz and promote their products. Usually these freebies are cheap trinkets like toys, keyrings and trading cards that cost next to nothing to produce. But back in the 1950s, a Chicago advertising executive named Bruce Baker came up with a stranger-than-fiction marketing gimmick for the Quaker Oats Company. Instead of toys, Baker decided that the cereal manufacturer should give away land, real land in gold-rich Yukon county in Canada, with eve

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2020-11-27 20:19:00

Hostile Façades  

The old city of Segovia, about 90 km north of Madrid, is best known for its aqueduct, but this historic city is full of architectural curiosities, such as the ornamental façades and geometric textures on the walls of many of the houses, the strangest of which is Casa de los Picos, or the "House of Peaks". The façade of this house is covered entirely by granite blocks carved into pyramid-shaped reliefs. There are more than six hundred pyramids jutting out of the walls giving the impression ...

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2020-11-26 20:16:00

The Great Glass Slab at Beth Shearim  

In a cave adjacent to an ancient cemetery near Beit She'arim, an old Jewish town in northern Israel, there lies a huge slab of glass approximately 6.5 feet wide, 11 feet long and 18 inches thick. It weighs 9 tons. Although chemical analysis confirm it's glass, the slab doesn't look anything like the delicate, translucent material. Rather, it looks like a large block of limestone, for it is completely opaque and bluish-gray. When the slab was discovered in the 1960s during an exploratio...

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2020-11-25 21:10:00

The Wine Cellars of Hercegkút  

The Tokaj wine region in northeastern Hungary has been producing wine since Roman times. Tokaj's wines were historically prized throughout Europe, thanks to a gift of numerous bottles that the prince of Transylvania presented to King Louis XIV. Delighted with the precious beverage, Louis XIV declared it the "Wine of Kings, King of Wines". Subsequently, Tokaj's wine became the main drink served at the Versailles Court, where it became known under the name of Tokay. Hobbit's home like...

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2020-11-25 11:19:00

The Great Bed of Ware  

For much of human history, sleeping arrangements were very informal. You heaped a pile of straw or leaves on the floor, covered it with animal skin or a large linen cloth, and tucked yourself in with a cloak or a blanket. It wasn't until the Middle Ages that people started to afford a bit of luxury. Mattresses were stuffed with feathers, wool, or horse hair, depending on the level of comfort desired, with feathers being the softest and the costliest of stuffing. Considerable attention was give...

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2020-11-24 11:00:00

Charles Crocker's Spite Fence  

Back when San Francisco's luxurious destination Nob Hill was just another neighborhood in the newly incorporated city, a young German immigrant named Nicholas Yung built himself a modest three-story house at the top of what was then California Hill. Away from the hustle and bustle of the burgeoning city swamped by gold prospectors, California Hill's steep climb afforded the undertaker and his wife Rosina a peaceful, isolated existence with stunning view of the Bay to the east and the Golde...

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2020-11-21 15:10:00

The Lost Villages of The Port of Antwerp  

In the middle of the Port of Antwerp, in Belgium, surrounded by an endless sea of shipping containers, stands an old church tower on a small patch of grass. Out of place and out of time, this centuries-old tower in the middle of a modern container port is all that remains of the former village of Wilmarsdonk that was wiped away in the 1960s, along with three others, to make way for the expansion of the port. The tower of the St. Laurence church of Wilmarsdonk standing in the middle of the bus

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2020-11-19 15:12:00

George Cayley: The Man Who Invented Flight  

History credits Orville and Wilbur Wright for flying the world's first aircraft, but it was Yorkshire Baronet Sir George Cayley who first proposed, propounded and published the principles of modern aerodynamics. It was George Cayley, who, more than a century before the Wright Brothers took flight, set forth the concept of the modern airplane as a fixed-wing flying machine as opposed to the comical flapping winged machines that many of his predecessors had imagined. It was George Cayley who pro...

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2020-11-17 21:35:00

How Alexander Turned The Island of Tyre Into a Peninsula  

The city of Tyre in southern Lebanon is one of the oldest cities in the world. Originally founded by settlers from the nearby city of Sidon in the 3rd millennium BCE, Tyre became politically independent when Egyptian influence in Phoenicia declined, and later it surpassed even Sidon to become the most important Phoenician trade center and seaport having commercial ties with all parts of the Mediterranean world. The city is situated on a small bulbous peninsula that juts out from the Lebanese co

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2020-11-16 12:43:00

Pericles' Funeral Oration, The Most Famous Speech in History  

The Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens began in 431 BC and would last for almost 28 years. In the end, Sparta prevailed, but its hegemony would not last long, since first Thebes and then Macedonia, would end up imposing themselves on the Greek world. At the end of the first year of the war, the Athenians, as was their custom, gathered for a ceremony to honor and remember the fallen. As Thucydides recounts, it consisted of a procession that accompanied the ten coffins (cypress coffers,

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2020-11-13 16:02:00

Australia's Great Artesian Basin  

Australia is dry, hot, unimaginably infertile and the most inhospitable of all inhabited continents. Yet, underneath the parched land, lies one of the world's largest source of groundwater—a vast underground aquifer, trapped within layers of impermeable rock and clay, containing an astounding 65,000 cubic kilometers of fresh water, enough to fill the Great Lakes of Northern America nearly three times over. Even the world largest freshwater lake, Lake Baikal, is 2.7 times smaller than the Gre...

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2020-11-11 22:51:00

The Dambusters Raid of 1943  

On the night of 16-17 May 1943, a squadron of the Royal Air Force conducted a daring mission deep into German territory to destroy two dams in the Ruhr valley, the industrial heartland of Germany. The subsequent flooding destroyed two hydroelectric power plants and several factories and mines, crippling Germany's steel and coal production. The mission was codenamed Operation Chastise. One of the targets, the Möhne dam in North Rhine-Westphalia, was the largest in Europe. It was built to he...

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2020-11-10 20:08:00

How Mining Engineers Helped NASA Get to The Moon  

The outrageous plot of NASA hiring a group of miners for a space mission may remind you of a certain Hollywood movie, but back in the mid-1960s when the space organization was trying to reach the moon, they did, in fact, look towards coal miners and their tools for inspiration. Back then, NASA had just completed designing the Saturn V, the behemoth of a rocket weighing nearly 3,000 tons that would take the first men to the moon, but they had yet to figure out how to deliver this monstrous rocket

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2020-11-06 18:41:00

The Nottingham Cheese Riot of 1766  

1766 was a bad year for farmers. Crops failed all across Europe, and prices of wheat, flour, corn and other foodstuffs shot up as a consequence. English producers and dealers were tempted to ship much of their supplies to profitable foreign markets, and there were loud cries of protests everywhere. Dozens of food riots broke out across England where goods were seized by force. A satirical cartoon depicting a fat 'forestaller' being dragged along by a rope round his neck by a chain of

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2020-11-05 09:51:00

Rushton Triangular Lodge  

The Triangular Lodge near Rushton, in Northamptonshire, England, is an unusual building. This three-sided house was built in the late 16th century by Sir Thomas Tresham, a devout Catholic, as a way of expressing his faith. The number three, symbolizing the Holy Trinity, is apparent everywhere, from the triangular shape to the use of the trefoil window designs, to the number of floors, the various dimensions and symbolic letters, dates, and numbers which are all multiples of three. Photo: Awe

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2020-11-05 09:50:00

The Turin Erotic Papyrus  

The Turin Erotic Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll-painting that has long been a subject of intense interest among Egyptologists, because it deals with the subject of sex rather graphically. The Turin Erotic Papyrus is believed to be created during the time of Ramesses III (roughly 1184-1153 BCE), which makes it about a thousand years older than the Kamasutra, the only other great treatise on sex from the ancient world. The original papyrus is in tatters. © Amusing Planet,

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2020-11-04 12:10:00

New York Moving Day: Mayhem on The Streets  

The first day of May used to be absurdly chaotic for New Yorkers, for it was "Moving Day"—the once a year tradition when nearly a million tenants across the city swapped homes.  Up until the end of World War 2, all leases expired simultaneously on May 1, causing everyone to change their residences, all at the same time. The landlords gave their tenants a 3-month notice informing them what the new rent would be after the end of the quarter. That day, February 1, was sometimes called "R...

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2020-11-03 10:03:00

Banda: The Secret Island of Nutmegs  

In the Banda Sea, roughly 2,500 km east of Jakarta lies the Banda Islands, a part of Indonesia. For thousands of years, this group of ten islands were the world's only source of nutmeg and mace, which is derived from nutmeg's shell. Before the arrival of Europeans, Banda was ruled by the nobles called orang kaya, who traded with the Indians and the Arabs, who in turn sold spices to the Europeans for exorbitant prices. In those days nutmeg was worth more by weight than gold, as the spice wa...

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2020-11-02 09:38:00

The German-Japanese Village Where The Most Fearful Weapon Was Tested  

One of the most devastating weapons ever invented was not the atomic bomb but napalm, the incendiary agent that was used extensively against German and Japanese cities during the Second World War. Napalm is a thick inflammable gel that sticks to anything that is thrown at and burns at a torturously high temperature destroying buildings made of wood or other combustible materials. Despite being inflammable, napalm is surprisingly stable at high temperatures that allow it to be easily handled and

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2020-10-22 20:28:00

A la Ronde: The 16-Sided House That's Never Short of Sunlight  

Near the village of Lympstone, in Devon, England, stands a unique 18th century property—a one of a kind 16-sided house built by two fiercely independent spinster cousins, Jane and Mary Parminter, after they returned from a decade-long tour of Europe. Jane Parminter was the daughter of a wealthy Devon wine merchant. After her father's death in 1784, Jane set off on a grand tour of Europe, as was the custom among upper-class Britons in those times, accompanied by her invalid sister Elizabeth...

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2020-10-21 23:00:00

Broomway: Britain's Deadliest Path  

Situated on the east coast of Essex, England, on the estuary of River Roach, Foulness Island has long been controlled by the military. The artillery range there was first established by the War Office in the mid-19th century, and is now operated by the Ministry of Defence for testing new weapons and ammunition. Being located a long way from large population centers, the island is ideally suited for this purpose. The island itself, however, is not free of civilians. Cohabiting with killer grena

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2020-10-20 21:13:00

Casa de las Conchas: The House of Shells  

Casa de las Conchas, or the House of Shells, is a curious attraction in Salamanca, Spain. This stately mansion built between the late 15th and early 16th centuries has a façade covered with carvings of scallop shells, the symbol of the military Order of Santiago of which its first owner, Talavera Maldonado, was chancellor. Construction of the house began in 1493, but Maldonado didn't live to see its completion. After his death, the house was completed by his son Rodrigo Arias Maldonado in 15...

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2020-10-20 15:54:00

Huer's Hut And Pilchard Fishing  

Cornwall, in southwest England, once had a thriving fishing industry and at the heart of this industry was the pilchard, also known as sardines. Cornwall fishermen caught sardines in enormous quantities and shipped them to France, Spain and Italy, where salted pilchard was in great demand especially in the remote rural regions. During the mid-18th century, Cornwall exported 30,000 hogsheads (around 6,300 tons) of pilchards every year on average. This rose to more than 40,000 hogsheads (around 8,

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2020-10-19 11:31:00

The Vespasianus Titus Tunnel  

Around 300 BC Seleucus I founded, on the current southeast coast of Turkey, the city of Seleucia Pieria. Located north of the mouth of the Orontes River and at the foot of the Amanus Mountains, he gave it the name of Pieria, because the place reminded him of the Macedonian region of the same name. Seleucia Pieria soon became the seaport for the main city in the area, Antioquia del Orontes, and was a strategic enclave for the control of the Syrian region. For this reason, in 64 BC it was conquer

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2020-10-17 10:45:00

How Medieval Bridges Were Built—An Animation  

Building a bridge over water is a daunting task, and despite the many technological progresses, the basics have remain unchanged since ancient times. First a cofferdam is constructed on the riverbed and the water inside this enclosed structure is pumped out, exposing the muddy button. Upon this ground the piers of the bridge are erected. The historic Charles Bridge in Prague. Photo: Adisa/ © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-10-16 14:44:00

Fokker's Synchronizing Gear And The Birth of Fighter Planes  

The first airplanes to join the First World War were not made for combat. They merely played the role of an observer, scouting enemy positions and movements. Intelligence gathering was essential for warfare, and this new technological innovation made it possible for an observer to look into enemy territory surreptitiously. Predictably, the enemy began doing the same, and soon it became necessary to prevent enemy airplanes from conducting reconnaissance and surveillance. A British World War On

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2020-10-13 20:57:00

The Space Museum Inside a Church  

About 80 km outside of Kyiv, in the small Ukrainian town of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyy, there is a large complex of museums dedicated to preserving the history, culture and architecture of Ukrainian people. The National Historical and Ethnographic Reserve contains around 30 thematic museums on different profile—history, archaeology, literacy, ethnography, technology, etc. Among these, the museum dedicated to Space Exploration is the most curious, because it is housed inside a 130-year-old wooden ...

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2020-10-13 12:09:00

Aqueduct of Segovia: The Mortar-Less Miracle  

The aqueduct of Segovia is a classic example of Roman water transport architecture—simple in design, yet magnificent to behold, and surprisingly durable. The aqueduct was built in the 1st century AD to convey water from Frío River, 17 km away, to the city, and it has been carrying out this function in one form or another for the past 2,000 years. This is all the more impressive when you realize that this aqueduct was built without a single ounce of mortar. Segovia, situated approximately 100...

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2020-10-12 12:18:00

Writing Sheds of Famous Writers  

Writers usually have their favorite writing spots, a small, secluded space, sparsely furnished, where creativity flows unimpeded. The chosen environment is typically distraction-free, like the library, a hotel room, inside a car, or even a prison cell. Many significant literary works have been produced from within prisons. Indeed, locking oneself up with only a typewriter, or pen and paper, is a reasonable strategy. The The Hunchback of Notre Dame became possible only because Victor Hugo placed

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2020-10-09 15:30:00

Glacier Birds  

High in the Andes among frozen glaciers, where virtually nothing survives, a small and plump, blue-gray feathered bird lays eggs and raises their young. It is the only bird, other than emperor penguins, known to nest on ice—the most ill-suited of environments for raising young ones. The species known as the white-winged diuca-finch (Diuca speculifera) inhabits the high mountain meadows in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The diuca finch belongs to the large Emberizidae family, members of w...

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2020-10-08 21:37:00

The Spectacle of Death at The Paris Morgue  

Throughout the 19th century, the Paris morgue attracted thousand of visitors every day. Eager tourists consumed by a morbid fascination with death jostled in front of a large glass viewing window and craned their necks to see the corpses recently fished out of the River Seine or murdered in a gruesome fashion. Going to the morgue was often compared to going to the theatre. The official function of the morgue was identification of the bodies, but few, if any, went there with the intention of hel

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2020-10-07 19:51:00

The Storybook Houses of California  

At the intersection of Carmelita Avenue and Walden Drive, in Beverly Hills, California, there stands a house which appears straight out of a fairytale. With its steeply pitched gable roof, wooden shingles, shutters that hang askew and small leaded-glass windows, the house appears jarringly out of place among its upscale neighbors. But the interior is quite charming and spacious with two master suites and a 3,500-square-foot floor plan. The Witch's House. Photo: Lori Branham/Flickr ©...

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2020-10-06 15:29:00

The Huron King Nuclear Test  

The Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 65 miles northwest of the city of Las Vegas, is scattered with relics from the United States' nuclear age. Nearly a thousand nuclear tests were conducted at this place, of which about a hundred were atmospheric. Mushroom clouds from these tests were visible from almost one hundred miles away, and their tremors were felt as far away as Las Vegas. The subsidence crater of the Huron King Test of 24 June 1980. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-10-03 16:11:00

Abu Ballas: The Pottery Hill  

In 1917, British surveyor Dr. John Ball made an unusual discovery in the Libyan desert in Egypt. About 180 km south-west of the Dakhla Oases, he discovered two isolated sandstone cones jutting out of the desert sand. Both hills were covered with thousands of pottery, many broken but some still intact. The Egyptian explorer Prince Kamal el Dine Hussein named the archeological site Abu Ballas, or the "hill of pottery". Prince Kamal el Dine Hussein assumed that the jars were relics of fairly ...

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2020-10-02 19:47:00

The Strange 1940 Mid-Air Collision at Brocklesby  

In New South Wales, Australia, about 120 km south of Wagga Wagga, lies a small community of farmers and cattle rearers called Brocklesby. The village was once an important station on the Culcairn-Corowa railway line, whose main purpose was to haul wheat from the region to the ports for export. Then the railway closed, and now all that remains in Brocklesby are the grain silos, the defunct railway tracks and a couple of scattered houses. It is said that the only exciting thing that ever happened

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2020-10-01 11:21:00

The Shirt Collar Mail  

On April 21, 1906, three days after the terrible San Francisco earthquake, James Graves Jones dispatched a letter to his family in New York, informing them that he was safe and also describing the devastation in the city. The letter read: Dear Wayland and Gussie: All safe but awfully scared. Frisco and hell went into partnership and hell came out winner—got away with the sack. Draw a line from Ft Mason along Van Ness Ave. to Market St., out Market to Dolores to Twentieth, thence to Harriso...

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2020-09-30 16:22:00

Gbadolite: The Versailles of The Jungle  

Deep in the rainforest, more than 1,000 km from Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo, lies the decaying city of Gbadolite, home to nearly two hundred thousand people. Fifty years ago, Gbadolite was a just small village of 1,500 with mud brick houses. It wasn't even marked on maps, until Mobutu Sese Seko became the president. Within a decade, Gbadolite was transformed into a sprawling city with an airport, five-star hotels, supermarkets, hospitals with high tech facilities,...

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2020-09-29 12:24:00

The Failed British Plan to Destroy Nazi Factories With Exploding Rats  

During the Second World War, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE)—a secret organization whose job was to conduct espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe, as well as aid local resistance movements—devised an ingenious plan to blow up Nazi factories. A SOE officer posing as a student, procured about a hundred rats under the pretext of conducting laboratory experiments. The rats were killed, and their carcasses were filled with plastic explosives. The idea was to get French Resist...

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2020-09-29 12:10:00

Pierre André Latreille: The Entomologist Who Escaped Death Because of a Beetle  

Pierre Andre Latreille owed his life to a beetle. The French zoologist is often considered to be the father of modern entomology, having made considerable additions to our knowledge of that branch of natural science, especially in the field of crustaceans and insects. He named hundreds of taxa, as well as many species and countless genera. He was the first person who attempted a natural classification of the arthropods. The concept of the "type species", where a species of a genus is regard...

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2020-09-25 16:22:00

The 1925 Serum Run To Nome: The Incredible Story of How a Remote Alaskan Town Was Saved From an Epidemic  

In the winter of 1925, a small Alaskan town called Nome, situated on the edge of the Arctic circle, found itself on the brink of an unimaginable crisis. An outbreak of diphtheria threatened to wipe out the entire community of 1,400. Nome's lone physician, Curtis Welch, feared that if the infection spread, it could put at risk the surrounding communities totaling more than 10,000 people. A large number of these were natives who had no resistance to the disease. To make matter worse, Dr. Welch...

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2020-09-23 16:52:00

Petrozavodsk Phenomenon  

On September 20, 1977, between midnight and the early hours of the morning, people over a vast region in eastern Europe, stretching from Copenhagen and Helsinki in the west to Vladivostok in the east, observed an unusual light phenomenon in the sky. According to various eyewitness reports, an unidentified luminous object appeared suddenly on the dark sky, sending pulsed shafts of light to earth. It then moved slowly and silently towards the city of Petrozavodsk and spread over it in the form of

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2020-09-23 16:50:00

The Underground Fortress of Château de Brézé  

Château de Breze is a small castle by European standards. Occupying less than 2 acres, this modest U-shaped building surrounded by a dry moat appears nothing out of the ordinary. But beneath its humble foundation lies one of Europe's largest underground fortress. Château de Breze is located on the outskirts of the small village of Breze, in the Saumur region of the Loire Valley, France. It was built by Arthus de Maille-Breze, the then lord of the castle, in the mid-16th century. Fear...

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2020-09-21 15:08:00

The Disgrace of Gijon: The Match That Changed World Cup Football  

For the first time in the history of FIFA World Cup, the 1982 edition of the tournament in Spain saw 24 teams take part instead of the usual 16. There were a lot of new faces, such as Algeria, Cameroon, Honduras, Kuwait, and New Zealand. Some of the regulars like Netherlands, Mexico and Sweden also failed to qualify, and this left a lot of vacancies up for grabs. Belgium, Czechoslovakia, El Salvador, England and the Soviet Union were all back in the field after more than a decade of absence. T

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2020-09-18 17:19:00

The Iron Bridge of Shropshire  

The world's first cast iron bridge still stands in Shropshire, England, across River Severn. It's more than two hundred years old. Although cast iron has been used since ancient times to make pots and pans, cannon balls, and decorative pieces such as window grills and chimneypieces, it was never used for structural purposes until architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard suggested that a cast iron bridge be constructed to span the Severn Gorge in Shropshire. The Severn Gorge, later renamed to the...

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2020-09-17 20:04:00

The Four Inch Flight: The Comical Beginning to Project Mercury  

Like many firsts in spaceflight, Project Mercury began with a failure. The goal of the mission was to put a man in space and bring him safely back to earth, ideally before the Soviet Union did. The Soviets beat America by putting into orbit the first satellite, and now the race was on to put the first human. Unfortunately, Project Mercury was having trouble getting off the ground. In July 1960, the very first attempt to launch a Mercury capsule (that would carry future astronauts) on top of an

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2020-09-16 20:10:00

Vladimir Tatlin's Unbuilt Tower  

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the leader of the victorious Bolshevik Party, Vladimir Lenin, launched a massive monument-building program across the Russian Soviet Republic, the precursor to the Soviet Union, as means for propagating revolutionary and communist ideas. As part of this unabashedly-called "Monumental Propaganda", Lenin put a young Bolshevik architect named Vladimir Tatlin in charge of creating the headquarter for the Third International—an organization that Lenin found...

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2020-09-16 10:33:00

Etienne Bottineau And The Lost Art of Nauscopie  

Etienne Bottineau was a sailor and an employee of the French East India Company who possessed a remarkable skill. Bottineau could detect ships located beyond the horizon hundreds of miles from the coast and invisible to the eye. He would baffle anybody including his superiors by predicting the arrival of these yet-to-be-seen fleets up to four days in advance, and even correctly estimate the number of ships in the fleet. One particularly famous anecdote involving Bottineau's almost supernatura...

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2020-09-14 21:06:00

Désert de Retz  

François Racine de Monville had at his disposal a large estate on the edge of a 2,000-hectare-forest, in the commune of Chambourcy, about 15 km to the west of Paris. Being an 18th-century French aristocrat with a sizeable passive income generated from numerous land holdings in Normandy, Monville had little to worry about finances, so he spent most of his spare time learning new social skills and honing his many talents that made him very popular at parties. A handsome and charming man, Monville...

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2020-09-12 20:35:00

The Audacity of Peter Tordenskjold: The Naval Captain Who Asked His Enemy For Ammo in The Middle of a Battle  

On November 12, 1720 Peter Tordenskjold died in a sword duel. It will not sound familiar to most people, but he was one of the great national heroes of Denmark and Norway—countries that were once united, a daring sailor who would be the equivalent of what Nelson is to the British, Ruyter to the Dutch, Jones to the Americans or Bazan to the Spanish. Remembered in several popular songs and honored with several statues, streets, books, films and even a festival, a corvette of the Danish navy and...

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2020-09-11 19:33:00

Chinese Magic Mirrors  

For over a thousand years, a rare type of Chinese artifact has been baffling researchers. It's a polished bronze mirror with a pattern cast on its reverse side. The polished surface appears normal and can be used as a regular mirror. But when a bright light is shone on the mirror face and the reflected light is projected on to a surface, the pattern decorating the reverse face mysteriously appears in the projected reflection, as if the solid bronze mirror had become transparent. The Chinese na...

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2020-09-11 16:00:00

Burnley Embankment  

Regarded as one of the "Seven Wonders of British Waterways", the Burnley Embankment, locally known as "The Straight Mile", is an impressive earth embankment that carries The Leeds and Liverpool Canal some sixty feet above the town of Burnley. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal, that began construction in 1770, was originally designed to bypass Burnley in favor of the coal-and-lime-rich regions lying to the south. Burnley would have been connected to the canal by a branch heading up the valle...

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2020-09-10 16:39:00

The Train of The End of The World  

At the southernmost tip of South America, beyond the Andes, lies the beautiful and colorful city of Ushuaia, regarded by some as the southernmost city of the world. And just beyond the city's outskirts run a small steam railway originally built to serve the penal colony of Ushuaia. Today, the Southern Fuegian Railway takes tourists along the picturesque Pico Valley, through the thickly-forested Toro gorge and into the stunning national park. Photo: Deensel/Flickr © Amusing Planet, 20...

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2020-09-09 15:39:00

The Post Offices of Love and Romance  

The town of Bridal Veil, located in Multnomah County, Oregon, the United States, a little distance from the Bridal Veil waterfalls, remains awfully quiet throughout the year, except during wedding season. Thanks to its unique name and a small one-room post office—the town's only functioning business—Bridal Veil sees an influx of would-be couples every spring and summer, who come to this forgotten outpost just to get their wedding invitation mails cancelled by a special postmark. ©...

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2020-09-08 16:54:00

Anthropology Days: The Racist Olympic Event of 1904  

Starting from the late 19th century through the early 20th, human exhibitions were a routine part of circuses, traveling shows, and major expositions in the west, where indigenous people from around the world and their cultures were exhibited as one displayed animals in a zoo. Exhibits for these human zoos were sourced from the tribes of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, the Americas, and elsewhere. These men, women and children were often displayed living in mock eth

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2020-09-07 12:58:00

The Balmoral Pyramid  

Hidden among the trees in the woods surrounding the Balmoral Castle in Royal Deeside, Scotland, are eleven stone cairns erected by Queen Victoria in honour of her family, the largest being an impressive pyramid built to commemorate the death of her beloved husband. The Balmoral Estate was bought by Prince Albert in 1852 as a gift for his wife, Queen Victoria. Because the residence that originally stood on the property was not befitting the Royal Family, Prince Albert built a bigger castle about

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2020-09-04 20:45:00

Vinkensport: Belgium's Competitive Bird Calling  

In the Flanders region of Belgium, a favorite pastime among the old Dutch-speaking folks is raising and training the common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)—a small passerine bird about an ounce in weight, with a bright blue-grey cap and rust-red underparts. The males of the species are the most sought after because of their brighter plumage and stronger voice, which makes them a popular caged songbird. The chaffinch breed between spring and early summer. During this period, the male chaffinch t...

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2020-09-03 19:50:00

Gallaudet Eleven: The Deaf 'Astronauts'  

In the late 1950s, when NASA was still a young organization, one of the biggest challenges for them was to determine whether human spaceflight was a realistic possibility. One thing that was poorly understood was the the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body, and whether motion sickness could hinder space missions and endanger crews. In order to test how the body might react to the stomach-churning rigors of spaceflight, NASA needed people who were immune to motion sickness. An

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2020-09-02 16:56:00

Turlough: Ireland's Disappearing Lakes  

Many lakes whose existence depends wholly on rainwater runoffs are seasonal. The phenomenon is not particularly mysterious—the lake forms when rainwater accumulates in a depression, and disappears when the water dries off. However, in Ireland, there is a type of disappearing lake that does not evaporate into the air; it drains underground. They are known as turloughs. Lough Bunny in The Burren, County Clare, Ireland, is a turlough. Every summer it drains into fissures around the lake's ...

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2020-09-01 12:06:00

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