At some time or another, with or without witnesses present, we’ve all used the five-second rule to justify eating a cookie that’s touched the floor. After all, everyone knows that if a tasty treat spends less than five seconds on the ground, it doesn’t collect germs.
Well, not exactly. In 2003, high school student Jillian Clarke performed the first known scientific tests on the five-second rule. While interning at the food science laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Clarke tested the theory by placing gummy bears and cookies on ceramic tiles contaminated with E. coli.
Her results revealed bad news for clumsy snackers: The munchies picked up the bacteria within the five-second window. Clark’s quirky experiment inspired other food researchers to further investigate the matter. One such scientist, Dr. Paul L. Dawson of Clemson University, showed that food actually follows a “zero-second rule,” meaning that bacteria such as salmonella transfer onto food instantly upon contact.
Thankfully, the news isn’t as dire as it sounds. In a follow-up set of experiments, Clarke tested the bacteria levels of the university’s floors. Her team found very little contamination, even in the most highly trafficked areas of campus. As it turns out, most floors at the University of Illinois are so clean you can eat off of them.
In 2007, it was announced that police in Bangkok would be forced to wear bright pink Hello Kitty armbands as punishment for minor infractions. The plan was soon abandoned—according to NBC News, “There was a rebellion in the macho ranks, as well as outrage on Hello Kitty websites.”
[For way more than you ever wanted to learn about Hello Kitty, click here.]
The initials you see on almost every zipper you own stand for Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha, which translates into “Yoshida Manufacturing Corporation.” The company is named after Tadao Yoshida, who started the zipper concern in Tokyo in 1934.
In the earliest days of aviation there weren’t any official “airports”—any field with enough space for take-off would do. In the early 1920s, though, certain large cities had enough demand for air travel that small airports were built, and since temperature, precipitation and wind speed/direction were critical factors in air travel, the National Weather Service began using these airports as data points for reporting the weather. The NWS assigned two-letter codes (LA for Los Angeles, PH for Phoenix, etc.) to each airport for easy reference.
During the 1930s the popularity of air travel exploded, and the International Air Transport Association decided to standardize the industry by assigning each airport a three-letter code. The oldest airports, which had previously been known by a two-letter designation, had an X added to their abbreviation. Incidentally, that sand dune in Kitty Hawk from whence the Wright Brothers made their historic flight has its own IATA designation: FFA, for First Flight Airport.
Sometimes, having a word named after you isn’t a good thing. That’s what happened to Charles Cunningham Boycott, an English landlord in Ireland who set the price of rent so ridiculously high that his tenants rebelled. The entire region stopped selling him basic goods to protest the unfair treatment, and Boycott had to flee the “boycott” just to survive.
A Very Specific Question Arby's Customers Were Asking (Frequently) in 2001
From the FAQ section of Arbys.com, circa 2001:
"Arby’s® sounds like exactly the franchise I’m looking for and I like the quality and uniqueness of the food as well as the new building design. What geographic areas are currently being targeted by Arby’s® for development and whom do I call for more information?"
Edgar Whisenant, a former NASA engineer, was so sure about his calculated date that he wrote a book called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988 and boldly stated, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong.”
When he was, in fact, wrong, he published The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989, followed by the less-certain 23 Reasons Why a Pre-Tribulation Rapture Looks Like It Will Occur on Rosh-Hashanah 1993 and And Now the Earth’s Destruction by Fire, Nuclear Bomb Fire.
The Image the U.S. Government Used When Banning Lawn Darts
Consumer Product Safety Commission Document #5053 banned all lawn darts from sale in the United States, effective December 19, 1988. In the decade leading up to the ban, lawn darts had been blamed for the deaths of 3 children and nearly 7,000 injuries requiring trips to the emergency room. Parents were urged to “discard or destroy them immediately.”
California’s Mojave Desert is an enormous, undulating swath of brown, gray and alkali white; driving through it is such a monochromatic experience that you almost feel like you could go into color withdrawal. That’s why Salvation Mountain, just south of California’s own Dead Sea, the Salton, is such a shock to the system. It’s a man-made mountain covered in 100,000 gallons of technicolor paint, one man’s 25-year project. I was lucky enough to visit with a friend last week, and this is what we discovered.
Every time we fill up our tanks, we wrestle with one of life’s thorniest mysteries: Why do gas prices end in 0.9 cents? Unfortunately, the origins of the increment are murky. Some sources attribute the practice to the 1920s and 1930s, when the gasoline tax was nine-tenths of a cent. Stations would simply slap the extra 0.9 onto the advertised price of a gallon to give Uncle Sam his cut. Others theorize that slashing 0.1 cent off the price undercut competitors back in the days when gas was just a few cents per gallon.
Although most drivers simply ignore the extra 0.9 cents, oil companies certainly don’t. In 2009, Americans consumed 378 million gallons of gas per day, and that extra 0.9 cents per gallon was collectively worth nearly $3.5 million a day. On the flip side, you could also argue that customers collectively saved around $340,000 per day, thanks to stations’ reluctance to round up to the next penny.
Back in 2007, Slate took an amusing look at some of the racier names that slipped past the Jockey Club’s reviewers. Among them: Blow Me (1945), Spank It (1985), Date More Minors (1998), Bodacious Tatas (1985), Sexual Harrasment (1997), and – say it aloud – Hardawn (1937).
“It’s difficult with the use of some words that meant something 20 years ago may mean something totally different with the MTV generation,” Jockey Club registrar Rick Bailey told NPR. There’s also Hoochiecoochiemama (1989), Panty Raid (2004), Thong Thong Thong (1989), Thong or Panties (2004), and, because the Jockey Club is an equal opportunity registry, Boxers or Briefs (2007).
And while it’s hardly dirty, a horse named Mental Floss was registered in 2001.
"Passengers become so spoiled by airplane food that occasionally someone refuses to deplane when the jet lands."
The Food Timeline is a fascinating site that tracks the history of various dishes, from ice cream to potato salad to, say, airplane food. Things sure have changed since this Los Angeles Times article was published in 1962:
• “I have just discovered one of the world’s really spectacular restaurants. It’s an intimate little place operated by Trans World Airlines at about 35,000 ft. over the Atlantic. There’s just one drawback, though: Passengers become so spoiled by the food that occasionally someone refuses to deplane when the jet lands.”
• “TWA found out it was my birthday and insisted on throwing a party (the reservations clerks check every passenger’s passport for this very reason). The stewardess brought a vanilla-frosted two-layer cake that spelled out ‘Best Wishes.’”
• “Before leaving Los Angeles everyone was given a booklet which explained: ‘A Royal Ambassador meal is a series of impressions…the soft clink of cocktail glasses…the crisp, frosty tang of expertly mixed drinks…tasty snacks…’ There was a great deal of clinking all right; the beverage list alone contained 36 drinks. At any rate, the booklet explained that this was merely the beginning—just a warm-up for dishes to come, such as Beluga caviar, smoked Nova Scotia salmon and fresh lobster medallion.”
[This article comes from our Monday-Thursday newsletter, Watercooler Ammo. Subscribe today!]
On this date in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female prime minister. Later that year, she attended an economic summit in Japan. She was still a fairly new prime minister when she headed to Tokyo, and her hosts were a bit apprehensive about how a female PM would be received. To ensure Thatcher’s safety, they came up with a novel plan: they would offer her a detail of 20 “karate ladies” for protection.
There was only one hitch in this bizarre plan: Thatcher wanted no part of it.
Recently released records quote Thatcher’s cabinet secretary Sir John Hunt as saying, “Mrs. Thatcher will attend the summit as Prime Minister and not as a woman per se…the Prime Minister would like to be treated in exactly the same manner as the other visiting Heads of Delegation…If other delegation leaders, for example, are each being assigned 20 karate gentlemen, the Prime Minister would have no objection to this; but she does not wish to be singled out.”
"A group of engineering students from Purdue University reported that its licking machine [pictured], modeled after a human tongue, took an average of 364 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. Twenty of the group’s volunteers assumed the licking challenge-unassisted by machinery-and averaged 252 licks each to the center."
In 2005, a TV Land statue of Samantha Stevens of Bewitched was unveiled in Salem, Massachusetts.
Some citizens of the town objected because the witch trials of 1692 that are associated with the community were a tragedy that should not be trivialized. Some TV fans were upset because the series actually took place in a Connecticut suburb.
[by Miss Cellania; Image by Flickr user dresdnhope.]