Aug 07 2017137 Isaac Newton and the Cat Door

Popular legend holds that Isaac Newton invented not only calculus, but also the cat door. Unfortunately, this colorful legend is not supported by good evidence. Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, with the oldest known domestic cat possibly dating back to Cyprus 9,500 years ago. Textual evidence for cat doors can be found Chaucer in The Miller’s Tale, centuries before Newton, and there’s no evidence that the natural philosopher even owned a cat. Nevertheless, the myth has been persistent and varied, initially being used to cut the scholar down to size, and later on used to demonstrate his brilliance.

Jul 31 2017136 Durer’s Rhinoceros

For almost three hundred years Europeans were not entirely sure what rhinos looked like. The most popular image of the beast was a print made by Albrecht Durer in 1515, which shows an Indian rhinoceros as a plated, scaled, animal with an extra horn between its shoulderblades. The print also includes text about how rhinos hunt and kill elephants. Durer never actually saw the rhino, which was a gift from the sultan of Cambay the the king of Portugal, but that didn’t stop his print from becoming one of the most influential pieces of media of all time.

Jul 17 2017135 Pad Thai, Nationalism, and Mandatory Hats

Pad Thai is now heavily associated with Thai cuisine, but it’s a relatively modern invention. Noodles were probably imported to Thailand via either China or Vietnam, and the style of cooking of the noodles seems to indicate that it stems from other noodle dishes from southeast China. Noodles in general, and pad Thai in particular, were popularized in the 1930s and 1940s as a way of intentionally giving Thailand a national dish. The prime minister behind reforms, Plaek Phibunsongkhram, also attempted to give his country a militaristic code of valor, fewer vowels, gendered names, and mandatory hats. Of his reforms, pad Thai is the only one that remains.

Jul 10 2017134 The Imaginary Islands of Benjamin Morrell

There’s no shortage of things on old maps that turned out to be fictional. Regions such as the Mountains of Kong or the continent of Lemuria dot antiquated maps, and the obviousness of their fictional nature seems quaint today. However, some fictional features of old maps were more subtle. Benjamin Morrell was an American sailor in the early 1800s who, in his memoirs, A Narrative of Four Voyages, invented islands out of whole cloth, most prominently Byers Island in the Pacific, and New South Greenland, a nonexistent region he placed off the coast of Antarctica.

Jul 05 2017133 Hachiko

A statue of a dog sits outside Shibuya station in downtown Tokyo. The statue commemorates Hachiko, an Akita who walked to and from the train station every day with his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor of agricultural science at Tokyo Imperial University. In 1935 the professor died while at work, but Hachiko kept returning to Shibuya to wait for his master. He waited for ten year for the professor to return, until his eventual death in 1935. Like Bummer and Lazarus, Hachiko is a dog that became beloved among his community, and he is one of many dogs that have waited for their humans to return long after death.

Jun 19 2017132 Crystal King on Feast of Sorrow

Crystal King is the author of Feast of Sorrow, a novel about ancient Roman cooking that takes the first known cookbook as its inspiration. We talked about what it would have been like to go to a Roman dinner party, what the common people would have eaten, Roman fast food, and putting spices in your wine.

Jun 12 2017131 Polyamory, Polygraphs, and Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman’s origin story is a fascinating one. Diana of Themyscira was created in 1940 by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who helped invent the lie detector, worked for Universal Studios, and who lived in a menage-a-trois with his wife, Elizabeth, and another woman Olive Byrne. Marston believed that women were inherently superior to men, and in Wonder Woman created a character whom he believed embodied the qualities the world most needed. That, and there was a lot of bondage. So much bondage.

Jun 05 2017130 Human Mail

Sending human beings through the mail is not generally allowed, but plenty of people have tried it. The most notable person in US history to mail themselves is Henry “Box” Brown who escaped slavery in Virginia via a shipping company, and emerged in Philadelphia. Other notable human parcels include W. Reginald Bray, who made a habit of putting strange things through the mail, May Pierstorff, who was mailed by her parents as a parcel, and Reg Spiers, an athlete who mailed himself to from the UK to London and later became a drug smuggler.

May 30 2017129 Phantom Time, the Dumbest Conspiracy Theory Ever

One of the most dramatic (and dumbest) conspiracy theories of all time is the Phantom Time Hypothesis, put forward by the conspiracy theorist Heriber Illig. They hypothesis states that almost three centurires of the Middle Ages, AD 614 to 911, never happened, and it was all because of Otto III (pictured below) and Pope Sylvester II.

Like the legend of Polybius, though, this is a conspiracy theory with some fascinating truth behind it. There are indeed chunks of missing time in the calendar, a result of the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian systems.

May 22 2017128 Quest For Thundercows

In 1910 the United States almost imported hippos as a meat animal. Had it done so, the US would have imported the single most dangerous large land animal on Earth and treated it like a cow. HR2361 also known as the American Hippo Bill, would have allocated $250,000 for the importation of hippos and other animals to the US. The bill had the support of former president Theodore Roosevelt, and even the New York Times favored importing hippos, calling it “lake cow bacon.”