20 Facts I Learned This Week That Truly Shocked And Surprised Me

    Before hitting it big as an actor, Jon Hamm taught drama and acting classes for a year at his former high school in St. Louis. One of his students was Ellie Kemper, who went on to star in The Office. Kemper said that all of the students in her improv class loved him. The pair went on to work together several times, with Kemper saying that it felt as if Hamm was "grading me on some level."

    1. Presidents, they're just like us? George H.W. Bush hated broccoli so much that he even gave a statement to the press about his distaste for the veggie. “I do not like broccoli,” he said. “And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” He even reportedly banned the vegetable from Air Force One. After his comments were made public, a group of farmers sent Bush a 10-ton shipment of broccoli ahead of a state dinner. Despite the gift, broccoli did not make it onto the menu for the event.

    George HW Bush behind the presidential podium and Barbara Bush holding a head of broccoli

    2. When the Titanic sank in 1912, priceless works of art went down with the ship. In fact, in 1997's Titanic, Rose, portrayed by Kate Winslet, is spotted hanging up paintings by Pablo Picasso in her lavish suite. Director James Cameron specifically wanted to use Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d’Avignon" in the film, even though the painting was never on the Titanic, and instead had been kept at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for decades. Despite his best efforts, Cameron's appeals to Picasso's estate were denied.

    Museumgoers looking at the Picasso painting

    That didn't stop Cameron from including an image of the painting in Titanic, sparking debate in the art community. After the Artists Rights Society, a company that holds the rights to many works of art, complained, Cameron offered to pay a fee to keep the art in the movie. When the 3D version of Titanic was released in theaters in 2012, Cameron said he believed that he should not have to pay another fee because he did not think the release constituted new work, while the Artists Rights Society asserted that it was.

    The painting being held by Rose in the movie

    3. Oreo cookies dipped in milk are truly a top-tier snack, but getting a perfect dunk is a little more scientific than you might imagine. Researchers have determined that you should dunk an Oreo in milk for four seconds — otherwise, your dessert might become a soggy mess.

    4. Agatha Christie was famous for writing some of the twistiest thrillers of her time, but did you know she was involved in quite the head-scratching mystery of her own? On Dec. 4, 1926, the writer kissed her daughter goodbye and headed out to her car, carrying a small case. She left a note for her secretary saying she wouldn't return that night but didn't specify any plans for long-term travel. By Dec. 6, newspapers began reporting on the mysterious disappearance of Christie, which only got more concerning when her car was found abandoned.

    Close-up of Agatha Christie

    As more details behind her disappearance started to surface, the world began to wonder why Christie had left her home in the first place. At the time, she was married to Col. Archibald Christie, who was having an affair with a younger woman. While the affair was not public knowledge, Agatha Christie likely knew about it. On Dec. 8, the search for her was called off after her brother-in-law said she had left him a note saying she was going to a spa for rest and treatment. Although the public thought the mystery was solved, the police weren't convinced and expanded their search, even bringing along one of Christie's dogs in hopes that it could track down her scent. They believed that Christie had died by suicide.

    News headline about Agatha missing

    Soon newspapers began reporting that Christie was terrified of her own home, even saying that she believed the house would be the end of her. By Dec. 11, the police were thoroughly stumped after finding that not a single person had seen Christie since her disappearance a week before. It was soon revealed that she had left three letters: one to her secretary, one to her brother-in-law, and one to her husband, who refused to share what she had written. Some believed that she was dead, while others thought the disappearance was a publicity stunt, which her secretary vehemently denied. The police soon turned to the unfinished manuscript that Christie had left behind for clues, and gathered an estimated 10,000–15,000 people to aid in the search.

    People standing by a dirt road near an old car

    Rumors that Christie was hiding in London dressed as a man began to swirl, but there was no proof. By Dec. 14, the police said they believed that when Christie left, she had no intentions of returning home. Nine days after she disappeared, Christie was found in a Yorkshire spa, exactly where she told her brother-in-law she would be. She had checked in under the name Mrs. Teresa Neele, which turned out to be the name of her husband's mistress. While her husband claimed that she had suffered from complete memory loss, Christie later said she believed she had amnesia. She rarely spoke of the incident. In 1928, she told the Daily Mail that she considered driving her car into a pond but decided against it after thinking of her daughter, and claimed she hit her head while driving away from the pond. In her memoirs, she devoted only one page to the mystery.

    Agatha signing books

    5. Have you ever seen the massive Bean Boot outside the L.L. Bean store in Maine? Turns out the larger-than-life boot clocks in at a size 410!

    Large boot outside a store front

    6. I was the kind of kid who kind of loved when it rained while at school because it meant we could stay inside and play The Oregon Trail on the computer. The classic computer game was invented by Don Rawitsch, a history teacher who was searching for a way to get his eighth-grade students interested in learning about westward expansion. Rawitsch, along with his colleagues Bill Heinemann and Paul Dillenberger, developed the game in 1971 as a way to mix up the curriculum. In fact, Rawitsch was known for his unique teaching methods! He once came to class dressed as Lewis and Clark, performed songs that he wrote about the Civil War, and staged a fake shooting for a mock trial assignment.

    Rawitsch first planned to make a board game for his class. After sharing his idea with Heinemann and Dillenberger, both math teachers who were familiar with computer programming, they told him he should turn it into a computer game. He introduced the game to his class in December 1971, and his students loved it. For many of them, it was their first time ever using a computer. Soon, students from other classes would come to Rawitsch's classroom during lunch to play the game. After the game was removed from the school's computer, the code sat in a folder on Rawitsch's desk for three years before he started giving the source code for use in Minnesota schools. The game soon became a worldwide phenomenon and has gone on to become one of the bestselling games of all time.

    Teachers showing off The Oregon Trail computer game

    7. Although rats are typically pretty tiny (the average rat weighs about a pound), their bite can pack a big punch! A rat's jaws are built like an alligator's, and they can exert up to 7,000 pounds of force per square inch, meaning they can quickly bite down to the human bone.

    A rat in a tunnel

    8. "Good Vibrations" is one of the Beach Boys' most famous songs. In fact, Brian Wilson, the band member who wrote the song, called it "his whole life performance in one track." Wilson got the inspiration to write the song from his mother, who used to tell him that dogs could pick up vibrations about people's demeanor. "She told me about dogs that would bark at people and then not bark at others, that a dog would pick up vibrations from these people that you can’t see but you can feel," he said.

    Group of guys holding a surf board and wearing suits on the beach

    Wilson took this concept and applied it to people but used the word "vibes" instead of "vibrations." After several people convinced Wilson to switch the song back to "vibrations," fellow band member Mike Love put the finishing touches on the song. While recording the track, they used an electro-theremin. A typical theremin makes sound by picking up on the vibrations from someone moving their hands above the musical instrument. The electronic version used the same principles but involved spinning a knob. The band members thought that the use of the vibrations with the theremin paired perfectly with the song's theme. "Good Vibrations" ended up being the most expensive single ever produced at the time and reached No. 1 on the charts in several countries.

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    Capitol Records / Via youtube.com

    9. September is the busiest month for birthdays, with the most common birthday being Sept. 9. Because the average pregnancy lasts about 38 weeks, this means that most of these children were conceived in December, right around the holidays.

    Calendar with Sept 9 circled

    10. Did you know that the von Trapps from The Sound of Music were based on a real family? While the film portrayed Maria, played by Julie Andrews, as arriving to serve as governess for all of the children, she actually came to the von Trapp family to tutor one of the children, Maria Franziska, who had come down with scarlet fever. When Maria arrived, she quickly fell in love with all of the children but did not initially love Georg, their father. Despite this, the pair married in 1927. "I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn't love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way, I really married the children," she wrote in her memoir. "[B]y and by, I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after."

    The cast of the musical onstage

    Both Georg and Maria underwent some personality shifts in the movie. At the beginning of the film, Georg is portrayed as gruff and harsh. In reality, his family said, he was actually a loving father who loved engaging in musical activities with his children. This change allegedly hurt his family, who felt uncomfortable with their father being shown as detached. Meanwhile, Maria actually appeared sweeter and more loving in the movie than she was in real life. While she was very caring toward the children, they noted that she had a temper that was not revealed in the film. She "had a terrible temper," Maria Franziska, her stepdaughter, revealed. "And from one moment to the next, you didn't know what hit her. We were not used to this. But we took it like a thunderstorm that would pass, because the next minute, she could be very nice."

    Maria von Trapp, the former governess

    Other elements of the von Trapp family's story that were changed for the movie included the names, ages, and genders of the children. While the movie shows seven von Trapp children, there were actually 10 of them. In addition, the family loved to perform music before Maria arrived, although she did teach them how to sing madrigals, as seen in the movie. In the movie, the family is shown making their way to freedom over the Swiss border on foot. In reality, the family actually fled to Italy, where Georg was a citizen because he had been born in Zadar, which became part of Italy in 1920. Maria and the children were also granted citizenship through this loophole and were able to reach Italy, then progressed onto America.

    People singing and sharing a mic

    So, what happened to the von Trapp family after the events of the movie? In the 1940s, they toured America as the Trapp Family Singers. After their tour, they settled down in Stowe, Vermont, where they opened the Trapp Family Lodge, a guesthouse. The lodge is still owned and operated by descendants of the von Trapp children.

    A house surrounded by trees

    11. The corpse flower, with its large spike, is known for being the largest flower structure without branches. The flower's center spike can grow up to 12 feet tall. When the flower blooms, it emits a scent of rotting meat, which is why it was dubbed the corpse flower. In addition, the flower is warm to the touch.

    12. Before hitting it big as an actor, Jon Hamm taught drama and acting classes for a year at his former high school in St. Louis. One of his students was Ellie Kemper, who went on to star in The Office. Kemper said that all of the students in her improv class loved him. They worked together in Bridesmaids, and Hamm even appeared on Kemper's Netflix series, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. "I think there’s still a teacher-student dynamic, and acting with him was a little bit nerve-racking just because I felt like he was still grading me on some level," Kemper said of the experience. "But he’s a wonderful man and it was a lot of fun."

    Jon and Ellie posing outside

    13. While presidential inaugurations now all take place on Jan. 20, that rule only came into play in 1933. Before then, inaugurations normally took place on March 4, a date that represented the start of the new federal government under the ratified Constitution. However, when Zachary Taylor was set to be inaugurated on March 4, 1849, he refused to take the oath of office.

    Painting of Zachary Taylor

    So why did the new president refuse to be sworn in on March 4? Taylor was very religious and didn't want to be sworn in on a Sunday. However, his predecessor, James Polk, had already left office by this point, meaning that for a matter of hours in 1849, there was technically no president at all.

    Illustration of people surrounding President Taylor

    14. Ed Porray, who was a Major League Baseball pitcher, was the only player in league history not to be born in a country. On Dec. 5, 1888, he was born on a fishing boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, his birth certificate says that he was born "at sea, on the Atlantic Ocean."

    Canoe in the middle of the water

    15. Turns out Cookie Monster's real name isn't Cookie. On an episode of Sesame Street, it was revealed that before he became obsessed with cookies, Cookie Monster's real name was Sid.

    16. Actor Glenn Close grew up in a group from age 7 to 22 that she says "was basically a cult." The group was called Moral Re-Armament (MRA) and had been developed in the 1920s by Frank N.D. Buchman, a minister who sought to lead "a worldwide evangelistic campaign based on God’s guidance, moral absolutes, and the 'life-changing' of individuals through personal work." Close said her parents joined the movement when she was a child and began practicing the group's strict rules. "Everybody spouted the same things, and there was a lot of rules, a lot of control," Close shared in an episode of The Me You Can't See, an Apple TV+ docuseries. "Because of how we were raised, anything that you thought you would do for yourself was considered selfish."

    Glenn Close in a chair

    Close said that there "was no collective memory" of anything but growing up in MRA. "It's astounding that something you went through at such an early stage in your life still has such a potential to be destructive." When Close started school at the College of William & Mary, she realized that she no longer wanted to be part of MRA. "I felt like there was a stamp on my forehead, and I felt a sense of terrible shame," she said on the WTF With Marc Maron podcast. "It wasn't my fault. But I felt terrible shame, and it really wreaked havoc with me and my siblings. It's devastating to go through something like that when you're that young."

    Glenn Close smiling on the red carpet

    17. The largest flying creature ever to live was a Quetzalcoatlus, which was a member of a group of flying reptiles called pterosaurs and was believed to be the size of a giraffe. Scientists believed the creature used its long legs to pole-vault itself into the air.

    Illustration of the birds

    18. The Wright brothers only flew together one time during their aviation career. Turns out that they made a deal with their father in which they promised him they wouldn't fly together in case tragedy struck and the plane went down. In 1910, their father agreed to lift his rule so the brothers could fly together once. The arrangement was also good for business because it ensured that even if one of the brothers died, the other would still be around to work on their flight experiments.

    The Wright brothers

    19. Patch Adams, a film starring Robin Williams as a doctor who tried to infuse humor while treating patients, was based on the true story of Dr. Hunter "Patch" Adams. Adams decided he wanted to pursue medicine in order to help make the world a better place. He started the Gesundheit Institute, a hospital model that included no charges for patients and the "integration of medicine with performance arts, arts and crafts, nature, agriculture, education, recreation and social service." After 12 years of operating the hospital, Adams had to shutter it because of funding issues. In 1985, Adams took what he called "a clown trip" to the Soviet Union to visit hospitals, orphanages, and nursing homes and provide them with humor and laughter during hard times. From then on, Adams went on several clown trips a year and helped build clinics and schools.

    Robin as Patch Adams

    Patch Adams was released in 1998. Adams said he was told that part of the movie's earnings were supposed to be donated to the Gesundheit Institute to help them build a new hospital. Instead, Adams revealed, he never saw any of the money, and told Roger Ebert that he "hated that movie." In 2017, he said the film was a "shallow" portrayal of his life's work. "After the movie, there wasn't a single positive article about our work or me," he told New Renaissance magazine. "There were dumb, stupid, meaningless things...it made my children cry. They actually thought that they didn't know the person they were reading about. I knew the movie would do this. I would become a funny doctor. Imagine how shallow that is relative to who I am."

    The real Patch Adams

    20. And finally, Althea Gibson paved the way for Black athletes in the tennis world. She was born in Harlem, and the police would block off streets in her neighborhood to allow children to play sports, which is where she began playing paddle tennis. By the time she was 12, Gibson had won a citywide paddle tennis tournament. After this feat, local musician Buddy Walker, who also worked with the Police Athletic League, took notice of Gibson's talents and introduced her to traditional tennis. Her neighbors even raised money so Gibson could enter tournaments, where she quickly began dominating her competition in the local and regional circuits.

    Althea with a tennis racket

    While Gibson had proved she was ready to compete on the sport's biggest stages, she was banned from national events because of her race. In 1950, Alice Marble, a four-time US Nationals champion, wrote an editorial arguing for Gibson to be invited to the event. She also challenged the racism in the tennis world. Soon after the editorial was released, Gibson was finally granted permission to compete in the US National Championships. In 1956, Gibson won the French Championships, becoming the first Black person to win a Grand Slam tournament. The following year, she became Wimbledon's first Black champion. By the time her tennis career concluded, Gibson had won 11 Grand Slam titles and was the highest-ranked woman in the sport.

    Gibson holding and kissing an award and holding a bouquet of flowers

    After she retired from tennis, Gibson took up golf, which she quickly excelled at. She even made it to the PGA Tour but was unable to compete in many of the tournaments because she was banned from many American country clubs because of her race. Tennis great Serena Williams has spoken about the impact Gibson's legacy has had on her own tennis career. "For me, she was the most important pioneer for tennis," Williams told WTA Tennis. "She was Black, she looked like me, and she opened up so many doors."

    Gibson in the middle of other Black people holding a golf club