20 Random Facts I Learned This Week That Sent Me Down Some Pretty Deep Rabbit Holes

    This one goes out to anyone who's ever wondered what space smells like.

    1. The Zodiac Killer murdered at least five people in Northern California between 1968 and 1969 (he claims to have killed 37), and he continued to send letters and ciphers to San Francisco newspapers throughout the early 1970s. The case remains unsolved, and for over 50 years so, too, did three of his ciphers — that is, until this past December, when a team of amateur cryptologists solved one of them, which the FBI then confirmed. And very recently, a French engineer claims to have solved the final two, one of which allegedly reveals the killer's identity.

    2. Apparently, space has a very distinct and powerful odor. Of course, you can't just stick your nose out there and give it a whiff, but the unusual smell has a tendency to cling to an astronaut's suit after they've completed a space walk.

    An astronaut on a space walk

    3. Harriet Tubman, who was known by the code name "Moses" to those seeking passage on the Underground Railroad, was the first woman in American history to lead troops into battle. Her successful and daring raid on Combahee Ferry during the Civil War resulted in the liberation of some 700 slaves.

    A portrait of a young Harriet Tubman

    4. Scientists believe that the Moon was formed in the most terrifying way possible. The most widely accepted theory behind its formation is called the "giant-impact hypothesis," and it posits that an object the size of Mars once crashed directly into Earth, and huge chunks of both Earth and the object coalesced to form the Moon as we know it today.

    An illustration of the giant-impact theory

    5. A rooster once survived for 18 months after his head had been cut off. His name was Mike, and after being beheaded on his Colorado farm one day in 1945, he just sort of stood around — and he continued to stand around for the next year and a half.

    6. Serial killer Rodney Alcala murdered seven women in the 1970s. In 1978, while his spree was active, he appeared as Bachelor Number One on an episode of The Dating Game and ended up getting picked to go on a date.

    Rodney Alcala grinning after being asked a question on The Dating Game

    7. The average African elephant brain has 257 billion neurons — that's three times as many neurons as the average human brain.

    An elephant

    8. Adolf Hitler and J. R. R. Tolkien fought on opposing sides in the Battle of the Somme — also called the Somme Offensive — which is one of the largest and deadliest conflicts of the first World War.

    An old photo of the trenches in Somme

    9. The Ferris wheel was invented for the sole purpose of one-upping the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

    10. Moving at an approximate speed of 5 miles per second, it only takes the International Space Station 90 minutes to complete a single orbit of Earth.

    the ISS over Earth

    11. There used to be a vintage Coca-Cola vending machine (pictured below) in Seattle, Washington that would spit out a mystery can of soda for only 75 cents. Occasionally, you'd even get something that was discontinued years, sometimes decades, earlier. The strangest thing is that no one knows who stocked and maintained the machine — the whole thing is shrouded in mystery.

    The vintage Coca-Cola machine

    12. Sperm whales sleep in a vertical position within groups of other sperm whales.

    A group of whales sleeping

    13. This 1,700-year-old wine is the oldest ever discovered that's still in liquid form. It was found inside an excavated grave in Speyer, Germany, and the reason it managed to survive for almost two millennia is because olive oil was poured into the bottle to seal the wine off from the open air.

    Really old wine that's not looking very drinkable

    14. Richard Nixon had a backup speech prepared in case Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became stranded on the Moon with no means of escape.

    Buzz Aldrin just after planting a flag on the moon

    15. In 1966, the FIFA World Cup Trophy was stolen in London only a few short months before the tournament was set to begin. A ransom note demanding £15,000 was sent to police, causing a general panic to ensue — but it didn't last long. Pickles, a collie mix who was out for his evening walk, found the trophy hidden in a bush only a week after it went missing, making him a worldwide hero.

    Pickles the dog being held for a photo

    16. This is a zonkey — or what you get when you breed a zebra and a donkey:

    A zonkey

    17. This is Jonathan the Tortoise, and he's believed to be the oldest land animal alive. He was born in 1832, making him 189 years old.

    Jonathan walking on grass

    18. In 2016, archaeologists used a ground-penetrating radar to study the contents of Shakespeare's grave, and what they discovered shocked them: His head appears to be missing.

    Shakespeare's grave

    19. During prohibition, pharmacists were allowed to fill prescriptions for "medicinal whiskey," which essentially gave them a legal monopoly on the outlawed substance.

    A group of men in a pharmacy pouring glasses of alcohol

    And here's an extra-strange frog fact for you:

    20. Prior to the invention of the refrigerator, people had to find creative ways to keep their food fresh. In Russia, that took the form of dropping a Russian brown frog in your milk to make it last longer — turns out, they were onto something. Russian brown frogs secrete a gooey substance that has strong antibacterial properties.

    A Russian brown frog

    Want to see what I learned last week? Click here to find out. And click HERE to see everything I learned in May.