30 Things You Probably Never Thought About—Until Just Now
Solve all the mysteries you stop and ponder for a split second (and then forget to look up later).
Why do my fingers get wrinkly when I’m swimming?
It may seem as if your skin is absorbing extra water during a soak in the pool or bathtub, but that’s not the case. Researchers have known since the 1930s that people with nerve damage in their fingers don’t prune up in the same way, meaning it’s not just happening through osmosis, according to Scientific American. Instead, it’s caused by blood vessels below the skin that constrict, which seems to have the evolutionary advantage of making it easier for us to pick up wet objects. For a 2013 study published in Biology Letters, scientists found that subjects with wrinkled fingers were faster at picking up submerged marbles (but didn’t do any better at picking up dry objects) than those with unwrinkled fingers.
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Why do cats climb into boxes?
They do it to feel safe, according to Live Science—and it’s not just your tabby: Big cats also like to hide in a spot where nothing can sneak up on them. Susan Bass, director of public relations at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, told Mental Floss that the tigers and other cats at her sanctuary will hop into any box big enough to hold them, just like the little kitty living at your house does.
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How did the colours blue and pink get assigned to boys and girls?
It seems so embedded in our culture, but even as late as 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing that four major department stores suggested dressing boys in pink, according to Smithsonian Magazine. In 1918 the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department wrote, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys in America, told Smithsonian that the colour designations were pretty much arbitrary until the 1940s when North American manufacturers attempted to interpret the preferences of their audience and could easily have gone the other way.
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Why do we hiccup?
Believe it or not, hiccups might be an evolutionary holdover from our more fishlike ancestors, according to Smithsonian Magazine. During a hiccup, the muscles we use to inhale contract while the vocal cords are slammed shut at the same time by the tongue and the roof of the mouth. There’s no discernible purpose for hiccups in humans, but a similar pattern of movement among amphibians is useful: When tadpoles are breathing underwater during a stage when they have both lungs and gills, they take in a mouthful of water, close the opening to the lungs, and then force the water out through their gills. In both humans and amphibians, the signal initiating hiccuplike activity comes from the brain stem.
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What were the first crops humans started to grow?
Crop cultivation probably started with wild varieties of peas, lentils, and barley that humans already found growing naturally around 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East (including modern Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Palestine, southeastern Turkey, and western Iran), according to NPR’s food blog, the Salt.
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Why do seashells sound like the ocean?
It’s lovely to reminisce about your beach vacation by listening to the sound of waves in a big conch shell—as long as you’re aware that it isn’t the ocean you hear. The shape of seashells allows them to capture and reflect ambient noise, amplifying certain frequencies, so when you hold one to your ear, you’re really just hearing echoes of the quiet sounds that are already surrounding you. Audiologist Shruti Deshpande, PhD, an assistant professor at St. John’s University and the Long Island Doctor of Audiology Consortium, told HuffPost recently that empty bowls and bottles can produce similar effects.
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Why do human beings have an appendix?
We usually only hear about the appendix—a small structure near the beginning of the large intestine—when it gets infected and requires emergency surgery. Many people since Charles Darwin have thought that it was a vestigial digestive organ left over from some previous evolutionary phase of our development and no longer has a use. But in recent years, scientists have realized that many other mammals have appendixes (including koalas and beavers). The tiny organ might be part of the immune system, assisting the body’s defenses by storing healthy gut bacteria.
Why do cops touch the taillight on a car during traffic stops?
For decades, police officers have put their fingers on the taillight as they approach the drivers-side window in order to leave fingerprints. It’s a just-in-case precaution that would prove they pulled a car over if they were injured during the encounter or went missing afterward, according to the Law Dictionary. The practice has fallen out of favour recently, though, as dashboard and body cameras have become commonplace.
Why are school buses yellow?
The colour is officially called “school bus glossy yellow,” and it’s standard across North America. Back in 1939, a conference funded by the Rockefeller Foundation attracted transportation officials from all-then 48 American states, who came together and agreed on a number of safety standards for school buses, including the colour. Yellow is very visible, even in early-morning or late-evening light, and black lettering on a yellow background is easy to read. It took until 1974 for all the school buses in the United States to meet the standards.
Why do we always see the same face of the moon?
Here on Earth, we can always see the “man in the moon” because the same surface faces toward us no matter where the moon is in its orbit. That’s because the moon is tidally locked with Earth, meaning that our gravitational pull keeps it rotating on its axis at a speed that’s coordinated with its orbit around our planet. We humans didn’t get a look at the moon’s other side until 1959, when the Soviet Luna spacecraft took the first photos and scientists realized it’s much different: there are a few large lava seas like the ones on the side facing us and many more impact craters.
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Why do we sleep?
Although the actual mechanism of sleep is still poorly understood, we do know why we need to do it: Brains seem to need the downtime in order to stay organized, and particularly to strengthen new neural connections that allow us to remember what we’ve learned. And we know why we shouldn’t go without: Long-term sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations, psychosis, heart disease, and immune system dysfunction. “Every physiological system in the body, and every operation of the mind, is powerfully enhanced by sleep when we get it, and demonstrably impaired when we don’t get enough,” Matthew P. Walker, PhD, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, told Reader’s Digest.
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Why does a bunny deliver eggs at Easter?
The Easter bunny is probably a throwback to an ancient Anglo-Saxon myth about the fertility goddess Ostara, as religion scholar Katie Edwards writes in the Conversation. Folklorists say that Ostara changed a bird into a rabbit, which went on to lay coloured eggs that she gave away to children as gifts. It’s unclear how the myth was co-opted by Christians, but it’s first mentioned in late-16th-century German texts, and German Lutherans brought the Easter bunny with them to the United States in the 18th century.
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Why do squirrels chase each other?
When they go on mad sprints up and down trees and across your yard and deck, they’re probably working out their hierarchy, according to Live Science. Squirrel expert Michael Steele of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania tells the website that one of the most common North American species—the Eastern gray squirrel—doesn’t tend to be territorial, but it does like to have everyone know who’s boss. Not too surprisingly, young squirrels also like to chase one another around for fun, like puppies do.
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Why are some people left-handed?
About 90 per cent of humans are righties, and it’s not at all clear why that proportion continues to hold. If there were a major evolutionary advantage to being left-handed, more people would have the trait; if there were a clear disadvantage, it would disappear. The latest thinking among scientists is that a large number of different genes affect handedness, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Many of the genes that have been studied play a part in the body’s left-right symmetry and certain mutations can lead to unusual organ placements (like the heart being on the right side instead of the left).
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Are left-handed people also left-footed?
Footedness and handedness are more often in sync for right-handed people than for southpaws, according to Discover. Overall, most of us are likelier to favour our right hands, feet, and eyes. (People who are left-footed are called “goofy” in board sports such as surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding—they actually place their right foot on the front of the board.)
How do birds know where to migrate?
Forty per cent of bird species migrate every year, with some travelling thousands of kilometres. (Arctic terns fly about 80,000 kilometres every year, from pole to pole.) Migrating birds can even find their destinations if researchers make them start from unusual locations, according to an article in the Conversation by Richard Holland, senior lecturer in animal cognition at Bangor University. How do they do it? Holland and his team published a study in 2018 suggesting that some songbirds use a magnetic map to navigate long distances, but nobody knows how they can detect the Earth’s magnetic field.
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Why are there 13 in a baker’s dozen?
Bakers in medieval England are thought to have come up with the idea of tossing in an extra roll or loaf of bread to make sure their customers were happy. While 12 eggs are easy to quantify, baked goods can turn out all different sizes because of differences in how much the dough rises. Plus, many bakers didn’t have accurate scales to weigh their flour, according to Britannica. Being accused of cheating could result in punishments including flogging, so bakers hedged their bets and included 13 (or sometimes 14) items to make sure nobody complained.
Why do we say “cheese” when we’re having our picture taken?
Saying the word cheese does make you pull your lips back and show your teeth, so if you’re trying to get a lot of people to at least approximate smiling at the same time, it’s a good start. (Plus, it’s kind of a funny thing to say when there aren’t any dairy products nearby, so it often makes people crack a real smile.) The practice is mentioned in a 1943 Texas newspaper article, according to Today I Found Out.
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Why are there so many pasta shapes?
In researching the 2010 book The Geometry of Pasta, Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy identified more than 1,200 names of pasta shapes, according to an interview they did with NPR’s All Things Considered. Some come from industrial tools (eliche are screws, and fusilli are spindles), and then there are the strozzapreti, or priest stranglers (possibly given that name because they’re so tasty, priests would try to eat too many and choke). Different shapes work better in different recipes, according to Kenedy and Hildebrand; scoop-shaped noodles go best with lumpy sauces (where they can catch chunks), twisted pastas hold thin sauces, and long, spaghetti-like noodles pair best with light-cream- or oil-based sauces, according to the BBC.
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Why are traffic lights green, yellow, and red?
Red for stop has the simplest explanation: Red has the longest wavelength of any colour on the spectrum of visible light, and as such it’s easier to see from far away than other colours, according to Thrillist. Railroad systems used red as a stop signal long before automobiles were on the roads. Trains originally used a white light to mean “go,” but engineers probably had a harder time telling it apart from the light of stars and other lanterns, so green took its place. Yellow was the original choice for stop signs because it was easier to see than red at night, but as reflective paint, streetlights, and headlights proliferated, the signs were changed over to red. Yellow is the second-easiest colour to see from a distance, so it was added as the “caution” signal in traffic lights.
Why do we wear wedding rings on our fourth finger?
The traditions of wearing a wedding band on your fourth finger on your left-hand dates back to ancient Egypt. They saw wedding bands as a symbol of eternity and believed that there was a “delicate nerve” that ran from the ring finger all the way to the heart. We now know that the heart is an organ for pumping blood, but back then they believed it was the centre of our emotions. Ancient Greeks and Romans followed a similar tradition and now we still wear wedding bands on that finger.
Why are most blackboards green and not black?
Before blackboards were large enough to take up an entire wall in a classroom, students would use individually sized boards made of slate or wood that had been painted black. So the first blackboards, were in fact, black. Once teachers realized they needed more space to teach their students they put multiple boards of slate together on the wall to make bigger blackboards. Then, when the demand for blackboards rose, companies started making them out of steel plates coated with green porcelain-based enamel instead of the traditional dark slate. They were lighter less fragile, and easier to ship.
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Why do we eat cake on birthdays?
No one is complaining about this tradition, but haven’t you always wondered why we do it? The ancient Egyptians are actually credited with “inventing” the celebrating of birthdays. They believed when pharaohs were crowned gods it was their “birth” as a god and it needed to be celebrated. The ancient Greeks borrowed the tradition and decided it would be even better with the addition of a sweet treat. They made moon-shaped pies to honour Artemis, goddess of the moon, and added lit candles to make the cakes shine like the moon. That’s where we get birthday candles from. Since the ingredients to make a cake were pretty expensive the tradition didn’t become popular until around the Industrial Revolution when ingredients started to become more plentiful.
Why do we say hello when we answer the phone?
Back in the day, telephone lines would constantly stay open so businesses could communicate with each other whenever they wanted. Similar to walkie-talkies. The only problem was letting the other side know when you wanted to start a conversation. Thomas Edison suggested that you say “hello” when you wanted to let the other person know that you were ready to talk.
Why does a smiley face symbolize happiness?
After an insurance company in Worchester, Massachusetts went through a series of tough transitions in 1963 they hired a graphic designer to create an image to boost morale. The designer came up with a smiling face on a yellow background. At first, it was just printed around their office to put a smile on everyone’s face, but it quickly gained popularity. Now, its positive message reaches across the world.
Why is denim blue?
Haven’t you always wondered why mostly all denim is a shade of blue? The colour blue was chosen for denim because of the chemical properties of the blue dye. Most dyes will permeate fabric in hot temperatures, making the colour stick, but the natural indigo dye used on denim only stuck to the outside of the threads. The more indigo-dyed denim gets washed the more the colour fades and the threads loosen making them feel worn-in. People loved the softness of well-worn jeans and they quickly gained popularity.
Why do jeans have those tiny pockets?
Those tiny pockets in your jeans seem pretty pointless, but they actually served a purpose back in the 1800s. It’s actually called a watch pocket because it was originally intended as a safe place for men to store their pocket watches. It dates back to Levi’s first ever pair of jeans, which hit the market in 1879.
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Why do passports only come in four colours?
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requires that all countries use a specific typeface, type size, and font for all official documents such as passports. Even though there are a lot of requirements that passports have to meet, the specific colour isn’t actually one of them. However, most countries choose to use simple dark shades of red, green, or blue because they look more official and they hide dirt and wear.
Why do elevators have tiny holes in them?
Have you ever noticed the tiny holes in elevator doors? Well, it might just save your life. The hole is actually used in emergencies when the elevator doors won’t open and people are stuck inside. A key is inserted into the hole to release the elevators landing door so anyone onboard can get to safety.
Why do old newspapers turn yellow?
If you’ve ever seen old newspapers piled up at your grandparent’s house you’ve probably noticed that they’re yellow. They change colour due to a process called oxidation. When newspapers are exposed to air and sunlight this chemical process causes them to absorb more sunlight and darken from white to yellow.
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