20 Facts I Learned This Week That I Found Just Plain Fascinating

    When Nikola Tesla realized he couldn't afford his hotel bill, he decided to offer up one of his inventions as payment, and gave hotel management a sealed box that he claimed contained a "death beam." Tesla made them promise not to open the box because its detonation would be incredibly dangerous. After his death in 1943, scientists took the proper precautions to open the box, and found that Tesla had merely thrown a bunch of spare lab parts in the box to avoid paying his bill.

    1. Although musician Jason Mraz is best known for his hit songs like "I'm Yours," he also has quite the side hustle. In addition to his music career, Mraz owns an avocado farm that provides Chipotle locations in California with avocados to make their famous guacamole. Mraz first started growing avocados at his home in 2004 before deciding to open Mraz Family Farms in 2015. In addition to avocados, Mraz's team also grows coffee plants, and have since come out with their own coffee line.

    Jason Mraz onstage

    2. Although The Shining recieved a lot of acclaim when it was released in 1980, Stephen King, who wrote the novel the movie was based on, was not a fan. King actually wrote his own version of the script for the film, but director Stanley Kubrick allegedly refused to even read it because he thought King's writing was "weak." Instead, Kubrick collaborated with Diane Johnson on the screenplay because he was a fan of one of her novels. Despite their differences, King revealed that Kubrick once called him at 7 a.m. to tell him that he believed ghost stories were actually optimistic because they meant there was an afterlife. This conversation reportedly caused King to press Kubrick about his thoughts on hell, to which Kubrick responded that he didn't believe in hell.

    Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"

    Some cite this early morning phone call as an example of the division between King and Kubrick's artistic visions. King preferred to lean on the idea that ghosts and demons were horrific, while Kubrick reportedly wanted to eliminate those elements from the movie because he thought the "horror of humanity" was scarier. After the movie was released, King revealed that he didn't like it, in part because he felt Jack Torrance, the main character, had "absolutely no arc at all," and instead was portrayed as being crazy throughout the entire movie. "I think The Shining is a beautiful film, and it looks terrific," King said. "It’s like a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it." In 1997, King made a three-episode miniseries that closely followed the events of the novel.

    Side-by-side of Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King

    3. The Dracula parrot, which is native to New Guinea, earned its name for both its vampiric coat of feathers and its vulture-like head. The parrot feeds almost exclusively on figs. Meanwhile, vultures mostly eat bloody carcasses. It's thought that vultures don't have many feathers on their head because they would get too sticky from the blood. Scientists believe that the Dracula parrot has evolved in a similar way, with a feather-free head to ensure their faces don't get too matted and messy from the sticky fruits.

    Closeup of a Dracula parrot

    4. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Boyd sisters, who were British models, were seen as two of music's biggest muses, with performers like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Mick Fleetwood reportedly penning tracks about the sisters. In 1964, Pattie auditioned for a secret role in the Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night. On the first day on set, George Harrison reportedly asked her out, but she turned him down because she had a boyfriend. A few weeks later, he asked again, and she agreed. The pair married in 1966. In 1969, Harrison wrote the song "Something" about his relationship with Boyd. "He told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it for me," she said of the song, which became a No. 1 single.

    Pattie Boyd and George Harrison

    Despite their seemingly strong relationship, Boyd left Harrison in 1974, allegedly due to his infidelity and drug use. In a shocking twist, she started dating Harrison's close friend, Eric Clapton, who had reportedly always had a thing for her. In fact, in 1970, he wrote the song "Bell Bottom Blues" about his feelings for her. In 1979, Clapton and Boyd married, but their relationship was reportedly rocky. Clapton also wrote the hit song "Wonderful Tonight" about Boyd. "I think in my case, both George and Eric had an inability to communicate their feelings through normal conversation," Boyd said. "I became a reflection for them."

    Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton

    Meanwhile, Pattie's younger sister Jenny, was in a longterm relationship with Fleetwood Mac frontman Mick Fleetwood, who she ultimately married twice. When Boyd and Fleetwood met, he was in a band called The Cheynes, which played alongside the Rolling Stones. During this time, Mick Jagger reportedly told Boyd he had written a song about her, although she said he never revealed what song it was. Boyd and Fleetwood had an on-again, off-again relationship before marrying in 1970. Boyd said that Fleetwood was consumed by his band, and even wanted to live with them, which Boyd claimed she vetoed. As Fleetwood Mac's popularity took off, Boyd had to give birth to their first child alone, while Fleetwood was on tour in America.

    Jenny Boyd and Mick Fleetwood

    Boyd said the communication between her and Fleetwood got so bad that she eventually had an affair with his bandmate, Bob Weston. When Fleetwood found out, he fired Weston, but ultimately got back together with Boyd. Fleetwood was also unfaithful, and reportedly had an affair with bandmate Stevie Nicks. "For years I didn’t talk to her," Boyd said. In fact, during this time, Boyd claimed she moved in with her sister and Clapton, but found their relationship to be too unhealthy to handle. Things with Fleetwood got so bad that his parents got involved, and attempted to ban Boyd from seeing her children. The couple divorced in 1976, only to remarry in 1977, before breaking things off for good in 1978. The new show Daisy Jones & the Six is partially based on some of Fleetwood Mac's IRL drama.

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    5. In 1995, Sandra Bullock starred in a movie called The Net, during which her character orders a pizza online using technology that didn't exist in real life. After seeing the movie, Tim Glass decided he wanted to bring the technology to life, and worked on building out Cyberslice using WebObjects, a tool from Steve Jobs's company NeXT. As a result, Jobs was the first person to successfully purchase a pizza using the technology by placing Cyberslice's first order onstage during a press conference.

    Steve Jobs

    6. You'd probably expect the US government to have secret bunkers in Washington, DC, but for over 30 years, they maintained a massive bomb shelter filled with survival supplies for members of Congress in a West Virginia hotel. The Greenbrier Resort, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is one of America's most famous luxury hotels. Underneath the sprawling property was a bunker about the size of a Walmart, that would be able to house every member of the House and the Senate in the case of a nuclear attack. The bunker used special technology to keep radiation out, had space for over 1,100 people to store belongings, a special room to allow Congress to be held while underground, and a six-month food supply.

    Underground bunker

    So, how did this bunker come about? In the late 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided that there needed to be a place for Congress to go as the threat of nuclear warfare became imminent. In 1958, government workers began building the bunker, in an operation known as "Project Greek Island." The project was kept under wraps with a clever cover story for hotel workers and guests: The construction was for a new conference center on the property. In fact, the project actually did include a conference center, which has been used by various non-government businesses over the years. In 1978, the hotel hired Bob Conte to be the resort's official historian. He began digging into the story, and said he noticed a few clues pointing to the bunker's existence. In 1992, the bunker's existence was exposed by the Washington Post. It's now mostly used for storage, although part of it is a tourist attraction.

    A room with a podium and chairs

    7. My entire fruit-eating existence is a lie: Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries technically aren't berries. They're actually all classified as multiple fruits, "which consist of many tiny individual fruits embedded in a fleshy receptacle." In a surprising twist, bananas, eggplants, grapes, and oranges are actually all berries because they all have the three layers that make up the berry designation.

    8. In 2005, ESPN acquired the rights to Monday Night Football from ABC. The weekly game was history's longest-running primetime series, so ESPN was torn between keeping the show's formula the same, or putting a new spin on it. The other issue? As ESPN gained the rights to MNF, they lost Sunday Night Football, and were now left with two broadcasting teams with only one game a week. Soon, ESPN officials found out that NBC, the new home of Sunday Night Football, was reportedly trying to poach the ABC team that ESPN had just acquired. After losing John Madden to NBC, ESPN executives were worried that they would also lose Al Michaels, who had been an integral part of the ABC broadcast for over 30 years. Michaels soon revealed that he was in talks to break his contract to join Madden.

    Closeup of Al Michaels

    George Bodenheimer, who was president of ESPN at the time, called Disney CEO Bob Iger to break the news that their buzzy new broadcast was losing big names. During the call, Iger reportedly told Bodenheimer that he'd "be willing to let Al Michaels go if you can get us the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from NBC." Turns out, NBC had owned Oswald, a revered Disney property from the beginning of Walt Disney's career. He was actually the predecessor to Mickey Mouse, and had been designed for Universal Pictures in the 1920s. Bodenheimer reached out to NBC executives and told them they could have Michaels in exchange for Oswald's return. They eventually worked out a deal — Michaels went to NBC, and Oswald returned to Disney, where the company threw a parade to welcome the character back.

    9. In the 1930s, Nikola Tesla was suffering from some financial issues. Upon checking out of the Governor Clinton Hotel in New York City, he realized he couldn't afford his stay, and decided to offer up one of his inventions as payment. To settle up the bill, he gave hotel management a sealed box that he claimed contained a "death beam," and made them promise not to open the box because its detonation would be incredibly dangerous. After Tesla's death in 1943, scientists took the proper precautions to open the box, and found that Tesla had merely thrown a bunch of spare lab parts in the box to avoid paying his bill.

    Nikola Tesla

    10. Ever wondered where the line "Stuck a feather in his cap, and called it macaroni," from the song "Yankee Doodle" came from? Turns out, it has nothing to do with pasta. Back in the 1700s, it was a tradition for well-off British men to travel to various European countries in order to "deepen their cultural knowledge." These travels were known as a Grand Tour. By the 1760s, many young British men began returning home wearing large wigs and slim-fitting outfits. They also reportedly had a newfound appreciation for the macaroni noodle, which hadn't yet made its way to England. As a result, many people began referring to their new style as "macaroni," and soon, it became slang for someone who was well-dressed and worldly.

    "Yankee Doodle"

    "Yankee Doodle" was actually a British song intended to poke fun at Americans, instead of the patriotic tune that it's often perceived to be. In the song, the British are mocking the way Americans believed they were stylish, by claiming that they believed merely sticking a feather in a cap was enough to be "macaroni." Despite the song's legacy, being "macaroni" quickly fell out of fashion in England, and those who dressed that way were often taunted and parodied, and frequently faced critiques for not being masculine enough.

    "The St. James's Macaroni"

    11. Squirrels have quite the penchant for thievery. There are two different types of squirrels: "scatter hoarders," which means they have multiple stashes of food hidden in various places, and "larder hoarders," meaning they store their entire stash of food in one place. As a result, scatter hoarding squirrels can't constantly monitor their food stores, and often have their stockpiles stolen from both fellow squirrels and birds. In fact, it's estimated that these squirrels lose about 25% of their food stashes due to theft.

    12. While it's hard to imagine Breaking Bad without Bryan Cranston portraying Walter White, it took a lot of convincing for him to earn the part! During the show's development, producers were allegedly set on either Matthew Broderick or John Cusack in the lead role. AMC reportedly wanted a big star to anchor their show, and didn't think that Cranston was well-known enough. They also allegedly had some qualms about his past roles. "We all still had the image of Bryan shaving his body in Malcolm in the Middle," a former AMC exec told the Hollywood Reporter. "We were like, 'Really? Isn't there anybody else?'" Vince Gilligan, the show's creator, had previously worked with Cranston on The X-Files, and was certain he could handle the part.

    Closeup of Bryan Cranston

    Fans of the show probably recognize Walter White's iconic hat, which symbolized his Heisenberg alter ego. The hat, which is known as a porkpie, was actually added to Cranston's costume for practical reasons. After shaving his head, Cranston was reportedly pretty cold on set, and kept pestering the show's costume designers for a hat. According to Kathleen Detoro, who worked as a costume designer on the show, Gilligan repeatedly declined Cranston's request. Gilligan eventually agreed to allow Cranston to wear the hat after he found a place where it worked with the show's plot, and thus, Heisenberg's classic hat was born.

    Closeup of Walter White

    13. The United States Senate used the same ivory gavel from the Senate's inception in 1789 until 1954, when then-Vice President Richard Nixon accidentally broke it during an intense debate about the use of nuclear power. The gavel was actually in pretty bad shape before its demise. In the 1940s, the Senate reported that the ivory nub on the gavel was broken. In 1952, the gavel was reinforced with two silver plates, which was supposed to ensure the gavel could be used for years to come. Despite the attempted fixes, it broke once and for all after Nixon used it to call the room to order. While many people assured Nixon that it wasn't his fault, he vowed to find a new piece of ivory for the gavel. A few months later, the Vice President of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, presented the Senate with a new gavel.

    Richard Nixon with the gavel

    14. Prince Harry's recent memoir Spare wasn't the first royal memoir to make headlines. In 1949, Marion Crawford, the former governess for Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, Princess Margaret, published a series of articles full of stories about her years caring for the royal sisters, which were then turned into a memoir, much to the dismay of the royal family. After retiring, Crawford, who was known as "Crawfie," was approached by Ladies' Home Journal to publish articles with details about her royal tenure. She was reportedly offered anywhere from $6,500 and $85,000 for the articles. Crawford's husband tried to persuade her to accept the offer, but Crawford decided to ask the Queen Mother for permission.

    Arrow pointing to Marion Crawford

    In a letter from June 1949, the Queen Mother said she did not approve of Crawford writing about the family. "If you, the moment you finished teaching Margaret, started writing about her and Lilibet, well, we should never feel confidence in anyone again," she wrote. However, she agreed that Crawford could act as an advisor for the magazine, so long as her name did not appear on any of the articles. Crawford's contract allegedly included a clause that said the magazine could use Crawford's name and details about the royal family without consent. During the summer of 1949, Crawford worked with a ghostwriter to pen her memoirs, which included her name.

    Arrow pointing to Marion Crawford

    The Queen Mother read the memoirs before they were published, and told the publisher of Ladies' Home Journal that Crawford "has gone off her head." The article appeared in the magazine in early 1950, and was later turned into a book called The Little Princesses. The royal family was horrified by the level of intimate detail in the book, including descriptions of Margaret's penchant for biting her sister, and details about the decorations in the girls' bedrooms. She also speculated that the king and queen were privately unhappy that they didn't have a son. The royal family was reportedly furious about the book, and cut all ties with Crawford, who continued to write about the royal family for the next few years.

    "The Little Princesses"

    15. In the classic sitcom The Brady Bunch, all six children were portrayed as sharing one bathroom. The issue? The bathroom didn't even have a toilet. The show's producers reportedly thought that showing a toilet on camera in any scene that took place in the bathroom was too crude, so they simply designed a bathroom set sans commode. About a decade prior to The Brady Bunch's debut, a toilet was featured in a scene in Leave It to Beaver. The kicker? Only the toilet's tank was shown on-screen, because it played a key part in the episode's plot.

    The Brady Bunch

    16. Although The Catcher in the Rye is probably one of the most commonly assigned novels in English classes, it's no stranger to controversy. When J.D. Salinger sent the novel to his publisher, his editor, Robert Giroux, loved it, but his editor's boss had some issues about the book because he thought Holden Caulfield was "insane." This actually prompted Giroux to leave his job. Before sending the book to publishers, Salinger actually went to the home of the New Yorker's fiction editor, and read him the entire manuscript from start to finish. Salinger reportedly had some prior beef with the magazine after they declined to publish one of his short stories.

    "The Catcher in the Rye"

    When the novel was published, a black and white photo of Salinger took up the entire back cover. By the book's third printing, Salinger demanded that his picture be removed from the book because he was wary of his growing fame. Salinger, who had PTSD following his time in the military, was known for being tough to work with. He reportedly didn't allow his editors to change a single word of his work, and turned down opportunities to publicize the novel. Despite this, Salinger finally granted an interview about his novel. He agreed to speak to a high school student about his novel and career for the school paper. The interview ended up running in the town's local paper, which Salinger saw as a betrayal. As a result, he built a massive fence around his home, and refused to participate in any more press.

    J.D. Salinger

    17. Although popular brands from Coach to Vans have created best-selling products using NASA's logo, NASA actually doesn't see a dime from the use of their branding. Because NASA is a government agency, their logo is in the public domain. If a company wants to use their logo on merchandise, then all they have to do is email NASA for permission. There are a few limitations, though! Bert Ulrich, who has been in charge of licensing for NASA for two decades, ensures that brands follow NASA's aesthetic guidelines, and will turn down any inappropriate requests.

    Chris Evans onstage

    18. In 1906, James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, wrote to architect Stanford White with an odd request: He wanted White to design him a 200-foot-tall mausoleum shaped like an owl. Bennett wanted the owl to be hollow, and planned to have his coffin suspended in the air with iron chains inside the owl. According to the New York Times, the mausoleum was supposed to be open to the public. "Through the interior of the tomb, a circular staircase was to ascend from the bottom of the pedestal, around the coffin and the great iron chains, up to the eyes of the owl, which were to be windows looking over New York City," they wrote. The owl would sit 465 feet above sea level. In contrast, the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet tall.

    James Gordon Bennett

    If this sounds bizarre to you, it tracks once you learn more about Bennett. He was not only known for being one of the richest bachelors in the city, but made headlines for his wild behavior. His socialite fiancée allegedly broke off their engagement after he peed in her family's fireplace, and newspapers reported that Bennett was caught racing a horse carriage naked. After the breakup, he fled to France, where he reportedly lived at Versailles before eventually returning to New York.

    Newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett (1841-1918), son of New York Herald newspaper founder James Gordon Bennett (1795-1872).

    Bennett and White had worked together before the planned mausoleum. White designed the headquarters for Bennett's newspaper, which also included an owl motif. So, why did the plan fall through? In 1906, White was shot and killed by Harry K. Thaw while attending a performance at Madison Square Garden. White was allegedly having an affair with Thaw's wife. After White's death, work on the mausoleum stopped. There is currently a memorial for Bennett in Manhattan's Herald Square, shaped like an owl, of course.

    Side-by-side of Harry K. Thaw and Stanford White

    19. Ever wondered about the difference between frogs and toads? Frogs have smooth skin, while a toad's skin is normally bumpier. Frogs also live near the water, which is essential to keep their skin moist. Meanwhile, toads don't necessarily need to live near water, because their skin retains moisture more easily. The biggest difference of all might be in their legs: Frogs have longer legs to allow them to leap, while toads have short legs that they use to hop.

    Closeup of a toad

    20. And finally, Hazel Scott was not only the first Black woman to host her own TV show, but notably stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Scott's mother, Alma, was a musician who often taught lessons at their home in Trinidad. By the age of 3, Scott could reportedly play the piano by ear. In 1924, her parents divorced, and she moved with her mom and grandmother to New York City. Alma was a member of several bands, and exposed her daughter to some of the most prominent Black musicians of the time period. Her mother used these connections to get Scott a Juilliard audition when she was just 8 years old, even though students were supposed to be 16. Scott began receiving private lessons from a Juilliard professor.

    Closeup of Hazel Scott

    By the time Scott was 13, she began performing with her mother's band. In 1938, Scott made her Broadway debut while continuing to perform at jazz clubs around the city, where she was noticed by stars like Billie Holiday. After making a name for herself in New York, Scott moved to Los Angeles to pursue a film career. She ended up turning down several roles that involved her playing a singing maid. Instead, she appeared as herself in five films, and asked to be paid as much as her white co-stars. She was soon seen as demanding, and by 1945, her film career ended. The passion for equality carried over into other aspects of Scott's career. She refused to perform for segregated audiences, a move that she credited to her mother's influence.

    Hazel Scott performing

    After leaving Hollywood, Scott decided to move back to New York, where she began dating Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who became the first Black man from New York elected to Congress. In 1950, Scott began hosting The Hazel Scott Show, making her the first Black woman to host her own show. Just as the show was gaining popularity, it was abruptly canceled after Scott was accused of being a Communist sympathizer who performed for Communist organizations. She chose to testify before Congress, where she said she was unaware of performing for any group with Communist ties, but admitted to supporting a Communist City Council candidate years before. Although she denied any wrongdoing, her career in America suffered. She lived in Paris for nearly a decade before returning to the United States, where she performed at jazz clubs until her death in 1981.

    Closeup of Hazel Scott