Completely Useless Facts of the Week – Issue 30

April 19, 2015

uselessfacts header30The weekly collection of useless and fun facts.  In this week’s edition: The Smell of VapoRub, The Deadly Yo-Yo, A Substandard Flag Grade, Stonehenge Souvenirs, and the Bulgarian No vs. Yes.

Vicks vaporub jarThe first fact of this week has to do with the incredible ability to smell.  When you breathe in and inhale air, odor molecules bind to receptors located in the nose, and then signals are sent to the brain where that information is processed.  It’s a highly complex process that results in memories of odors or certain reactions to odors we find pleasant or offensive. The ability to discern odors using our sense of smell is so complex that a study in the journal Science reported that humans can differentiate around an average of one trillion smells.

But what are the most recognizable smells?  According to a study from Yale University where 200 people identified 80 common aromas, the three most recognizable smells were coffee, peanut butter, and fascinatingly, Vicks VapoRub.  Yes, Vicks VapoRub, the camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil concoction that is slathered on the throat and chest.  Vicks VapoRub is billed as a topical cough medicine, but many use it to get the feeling of opening up those air passages.  The list of the 20 most recognizable smells is below and another interesting smell pops up at #18 – Crayons.  Source, Source, Source

20 Most Recognizable Smells

1. Coffee
2. Peanut butter
3. Vicks VapoRub
4. Chocolate
5. Wintergreen oil
6. Baby powder
7. Cigarette butts
8. Mothballs
9. Dry cat food
10. Beer
11. Ivory bar soap
12. Juicy Fruit gum
13. Orange
14. Cinnamon
15. Lemon
16. Tuna
17. Banana
18. Crayons
19. Cheese
20. Bleach

Wooden yo yoOne of the oldest toys is the yo-yo, and its believed to have originated in China, but the first mention of the toy was from 500 B.C. in Greece.  It was even once used as a primitive hunting weapon in the Philippines, according to historical records, even though it wasn’t exactly like the yo-yo we know today.  Hunters would hide in trees and throw rocks that were attached to long cords at wild animals that came underneath them.  The rock was then pulled back up to try again without the hunter having to leave their perch.

The yo-yo eventually found its way to India and Europe, and in France it was known as the l’emigrette during the time of the French Revolution.  The yo-yo was a toy of French nobility and l’emigrette meant “leave the country”, as that was what many of the aristocracy were doing at the time.  The first mention of the yo-yo in the U.S. was in 1866 when there was a patent for a yo-yo like toy.  Interestingly, things came full circle for the yo-yo in 1928 when a Filipino yo-yo was introduced to the U.S. since people in the Phillipines had become experts at making the toy.  The rest of yo-yo history became history in 1946 when the Duncan Company began making and selling them.  They sold 45 million by 1962.  Now it’s time to go, “walk the dog.”  Source

US Flag BacklitIn 1958, Robert G. Heft designed the modern American flag for a high school project and received a B- for it.  The discussion about adding Hawaii and Alaska as states is what motivated Heft to design a 50-star flag from the current 48-star flag for this high school project.  He spent twelve and half hours coming up with a new arrangement and sewing the new flag.  He put the stars in four rows of five stars between five rows of four stars.  When he turned it in to his teacher, Stanley Pratt, he received a B- for his work.  Pratt told Heft that the flag, “lacked originality,” and that, “anybody could make the flag.”  Pratt then told Heft that if he could get Congress to adopt it, he would receive a higher grade.  Heft sent his flag to his congressman at the time, Representative Walter Moeller.  The rest, shall we say, is flag history.  Congress adopted the design for the new flag that represented the two new states in the Union.

Heft didn’t just stop with the 50-star flag, he even made a 51-star version that had a row of nine stars followed by five rows of eight stars.  This one wasn’t needed, but just to be sure, it stayed in the possession of another Congressman from Ohio.  Heft’s original flag has seen an incredible amount of activity.  It has flown over 88 embassies and every state capitol building.  It has even has been flown over the White House when five different presidents have been in office.  No other flag has had this claim to fame.  Source

stone henge 327849 1280If you go to Stonehenge today, you’ll find that the famous 5,000 year-old prehistoric monument in England is roped off.  No one is able to get close to it.  But it wasn’t always that way.  At one time, before it was outlawed around 1900, chisels used to be handed out to people visiting Stonehenge so they could chip off a piece of the ancient monument to take home. Not the best of ideas.  Eventually the landowner of the site, Sir Edmund Antrobus, decided it needed to be protected and taken care of.  Though the practice of chipping off pieces of the rock had been outlawed, people still continued to climb and wear down the grass inside the monument, even though it was now in the hands of the people of England.  By 1977, the entire area was roped off so no one could climb or go near the structure.  Vandals have still managed to make their mark however.  In 2008, a piece of the Heel Stone was chipped off, and in 2013, someone decided that painting a smiley face on one of the rocks would be a cute way to make their mark.  Source

confused2In Bulgaria, a nod of the head means no, and shaking it means yes. Bulgaria isn’t the only place you can get yourself in hot water with what you think is correct.  In Greece, “ne” means yes, in India, a loose shake of the head can mean yes, no, or maybe, and in the Balkans you’ll get a tongue click only that means “no”.  To make things even more confusing, the people there will give you a tongue click with a head toss that also means “no”, or “no, we don’t have it.”  In addition, take care when getting directions in Hungary.  If the person is telling you to go straight and turn left, they will put out their index finger in a bent position, thereby telling you to go straight and turn left using only one finger.  Bottom line is, just watch yourself while on vacation.  Source

Another edition of the Useless Facts of the Week is done. Check back again next week for another edition.  As always, remember to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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