WTF • Fun • Fact    ( /dʌb(ə)lˌju/  /ti/   /ef/ • /fʌn/ • /fækt/ )

     1. noun  A random, interesting, and overall fun fact that makes you scratch your head and think what the...

WTF Fun Fact 13361 – Olympic Tug of War

Tug of War, a favorite childhood sport that pits two teams against each other in a test of strength and teamwork, had a brief but notable stint as an Olympic sport. Olympic Tug of War made its debut in the 1900 Paris Games. The inclusion of the sport was a reflection of the diverse range of events showcased in the early years of the modern Olympics. Organizers believed that Tug of War, with its raw physicality and team dynamics, would add excitement to the program. And we’re kind of sad it’s not there anymore!

Competitive Tug of War

Of course, Tug of War competitions at the Olympics followed a standardized set of rules. Each team consisted of eight athletes, and the objective was to pull the opposing team a certain distance across a line within a specified period of time.

If neither team achieved this, victory was awarded to the team that managed to pull their opponents the farthest.

Tug of War quickly gained popularity among spectators due to its gripping displays of strength. After all, it may not be figure skating, but it required determination, synchronization, and the ability to work together. The sport drew large crowds – and we imagine it still would today!

A playground sport goes global, then fades

Tug of War returned in the 1908 London Olympics. This time, the competition featured teams from more nations. But the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States were dominant.

So where did this popular sport go? Well, for all its popularity, the sport faced several challenges that ultimately led to its removal from the Olympic program. One factor was the lack of standardized weight categories, which disadvantaged lighter teams.

The removal of Tug of War from the Olympic program can also be attributed to shifting priorities. The Games evolved into a platform that emphasized individual athletic prowess, precision, and specific skill sets, rather than collective strength and team coordination.

The end of an era

Sweden holds the distinction of winning the most Olympic Tug of War medals, with five golds, one silver, and two bronzes. Sadly, the 1912 Stockholm Olympics was the last Games to feature Tug of War, marking the end of its Olympic journey.

Interestingly, the gold medals awarded to Tug of War champions were among the heaviest in Olympic history, weighing approximately 324 grams (11.4 ounces).

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Source: “Olympics History” — Tug of War Association

WTF Fun Fact 13360 – Plant Machete Robot

“Plant machete robot” are three words we never expected to hear together. And yet here we are.

That’s because David Bowen, a renowned kinetic artist, is pushing the boundaries of the relationship between technology and art. His latest exhibition, “Plant Machete” showcases his unique ability to fuse nature with machines. The result is a portrayal of plant life that is truly mesmerizing – and a bit dangerous.

A machete-wielding plant robot

Bowen described the piece on his website:

Plant machete has a control system that reads and utilizes the electrical noises found in a live philodendron. The system uses an open source micro-controller connected to the plant to read varying resistance signals across the plant’s leaves. Using custom software, these signals are mapped in real-time to the movements of the joints of the industrial robot holding a machete. In this way, the movements of the machete are determined based on input from the plant. Essentially the plant is the brain of the robot controlling the machete determining how it swings, jabs, slices and interacts in space.

Art meets tech

“Plant Machete” prompts viewers to question the boundaries between the organic and the mechanical. Bowen’s robotic machete, while purely mechanical, seems to breathe with life as it mimics the internal signals of the. It’s a testament to Bowen’s genius that he can draw such lifelike behavior from an inanimate object.

Bowen’s work sparks conversations about the interplay between nature and technology. As a result, we get a reminder of the connection between these worlds. The robotic machete brings the unseen world of plants to the surface. It also provides a unique perspective on the intricate dances of nature.

According to his website, Bowen “is a two-time recipient of a McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship and has received awards such as Grand Prize, Japan Media Arts Festival; Honorary Mention, Ars Electronica; and Third Prize, Vida Art and Artificial Life international competition. Bowen has been an artist in residence at Autodesk Pier 9, The Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art, The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and The Arctic Circle.”

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Source: “Watch a Living Plant Wield a Machete With a Robot Arm” — My Modern Met

WTF Fun Fact 13359 – The Biltmore Mansion Railroad

The Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina features 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, and elaborate gardens and grounds that sprawl over 8,000 acres.

During the mansion’s construction, a miniature railroad system was built to transport the massive amounts of building materials required to construct the estate. After the mansion’s construction was completed, the railway system was repurposed for transporting guests and farm products around the estate.

Building The Biltmore Mansion

In the late 1800s, George Washington Vanderbilt II commissioned the construction of the Biltmore Mansion in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The estate still stands as a major tourist attraction. It features a whopping 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, and gardens that span over 8,000 acres.

Constructing the Biltmore was no easy feat. The mansion necessitated a massive amount of construction materials. And these had to be transported to the remote construction site in the mountains and over rugged terrain.

That’s why Vanderbilt commissioned the construction of a miniature railroad system to transport the building materials to the site. The narrow-gauge system spanned over three miles and used a small steam engine that pulled flatbed railcars loaded with supplies like bricks, lumber, and stones.

Navigating the Blue Ridge Mountains

The railroad system was a significant engineering feat for its time. It was designed to navigate the steep inclines and tight corners of the mountainous terrain with ease. It was also able to transport much larger quantities of building materials than traditional wagons or trucks. As a result, Vanderbilt was able to transport massive amounts of building materials to create his elaborate mansion.

Once the mansion was completed, Vanderbilt repurposed the railway system to transport guests and farm products around the estate. Visitors could also take a ride on the railway and enjoy the scenic beauty of the estate’s gardens and grounds.

Today, visitors to the Biltmore Mansion can see remnants of the railway system, including the original steam engine, tracks, and bridges.

Today, remnants of this innovative transportation system – the original steam engine, tracks, and bridges – are still visible. They serve as a powerful reminder of the bold vision and ingenious problem-solving that went into constructing the Biltmore Mansion, adding another layer of intrigue for modern visitors.

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Source: “Building an Empire: Restoring the Biltmore Estate” — Yesterday’s America

WTF Fun Fact 13358 – The Black Box Is Not Black

You might have heard the term “the black box” in the context of airplane accidents. It’s what they look for after a crash because it holds information about the plane and its communications.

But did you know the so-called black box is actually bright orange? The reason is obvious, of course. The color makes it easier to locate.

The history of the black box

In the early days of aviation, there was little information available to investigators after airplane accidents. And this lack of data hindered the development of safety measures. So the industry found a way to collect the flight data they needed – even after a catastrophic accident.

In 1953, an Australian scientist named Dr. David Warren invented a device capable of recording flight data and cockpit conversations. He named his invention the “Flight Memory Unit.” This would eventually be known as “the black box.”

The box is formally referred to as the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). The FDR logs essential flight parameters, like altitude, airspeed, and vertical acceleration. Meanwhile, the CVR captures audio from the cockpit, including conversations between pilots and air traffic control. Together, these devices provide a comprehensive account of a flight’s final moments. This allows investigators to piece together the causes of an accident.

Why is the box actually orange?

The device is not black, but orange, making it easier to spot amongst the wreckage. It’s also equipped with an Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB), which emits a signal for up to 30 days.

The box is very durable. It’s engineered to withstand extreme conditions, starting with the impact of a crash. It also goes through drop tests, crush tests, and fire tests.

So, the real question is actually “How did an orange box become known as a black box?”

The term “black box” is believed to have originated from journalists and the media, rather than from aviation experts or engineers. The origin of the term remains unclear. But in the early days of the black box, its inner workings and the data it recorded were not understood by the public. As a result, the media coined the term as a way to describe something mysterious.

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Source: “Orange is the new black: the history of the ‘black box’” —

WTF Fun Fact 13357 – The Youngest Monarch

Did you know that the youngest monarch in history was Mary, Queen of Scots, who ascended to the throne when she was just 6 days old? Second place goes to Emperor Shang of the Han Dynasty in China. He ascended to the throne in 105 AD when he was just 100 days old.

History’s youngest monarch

Mary, Queen of Scots was born Mary Stuart on December 8, 1542, to King James V and the French Queen, Marie de Guise. The momentous occasion took place in Linlithgow Palace, Scotland.

Sadly, just six days after her birth, Mary’s father died. This left her the sole heir to the Scottish throne.

So, on December 14, 1542, baby Mary was proclaimed Queen of Scots. And while she clearly could not govern, this was the official beginning of her reign. Her mother served as Scotland’s regent from 1554 until her death in 1560.

Educating a queen

Mary was raised by her mother, who protected her and ensured she received the best possible education before taking on her royal duties. She was trained in languages, literature, music, and dance.

But, as was the custom, she was also betrothed to her husband very early in life. In 1548, at just five years old, Mary was betrothed to the French Dauphin, Francis. As a result, she was sent to France to live at the French court. While her mother visited, she spent her formative years with her future family.

In 1558, Mary and Francis were married. And a year later, upon the death of King Henry II, they became the king and queen consort of France.

During Mary’s time in France (1548-1561), she did have an argument for being made Queen of England as well as the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England. Mary was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth I, who took the throne instead. But for a while, things looked like they might go the other way since some people in England wanted Mary as Queen since she was Catholic. Elizabeth I was Protestant and faced opposition for it.

Return of the Queen

In 1560, King Francis passed away, making Mary a widow at age 18. After that, she returned to Scotland. But her reign was not easy and she deal with both political and religious conflicts among her people and within the palace.

Being Catholic made Mary unpopular with the predominantly Protestant Scottish nobility. And her French upbringing alienated her from her subjects. There were poor marriage decisions and other political miscalculations that led to the end of her reign in 1567. At that point, Mary was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, James VI.

After that, she fled to England hoping to seek refuge under Queen Elizabeth I.

As you may know, that did not work out. Mary was imprisoned by Elizabeth for 19 years on suspicions of plotting to overthrow the English queen. In 1586, she was found guilty of treason, and on February 8, 1587, Mary was executed at age 44.

Certainly not an ending befitting a Queen, and the world’s youngest monarch.

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Source: “The life of Mary, Queen of Scots” — National Trust for Scotland

WTF Fun Fact 13356 – The Design of 432 Park Ave

Manhattan’s 432 Park Ave is one of the tallest residential buildings in the world. Interestingly, the inspiration for the facade came from an unexpected source: a trash can.

Designing Manhattan’s 432 Park Ave

Rafael Viñoly was the architect behind 432 Park Avenue’s design. And he found inspiration in the work of Austrian designer Josef Hoffmann. Hoffmann was a prominent figure in the early 20th century, known for his role in founding the Wiener Werkstätte, a community of artists, designers, and craftsmen dedicated to creating high-quality, handcrafted objects. Among Hoffmann’s numerous designs was a 1905 wastepaper basket. It featured a simple, elegant cubic design featuring a square cutout pattern.

Viñoly saw beauty in the minimalism and geometric pattern of Hoffmann’s trash can and decided to incorporate these design elements into the exterior of 432 Park Avenue. The result is a grid of large windows.

From trash to treasure

The building, completed in 2015, is 1,396 feet (425.5 meters) tall. That makes it one of the tallest residential buildings in the world.

432 Park Ave has 96 floors and a total of 104 condominiums. Each floor features just one or two luxury residences.

The building’s slender design is an iconic part of Manhattan’s skyline, but its construction presented unique engineering challenges. To ensure the building’s stability and withstand strong winds, engineers needed unique structural supports to withstand winds.

Furthermore, to counteract the swaying that tall buildings can experience, engineers installed two tuned mass dampers on the 88th floor. These massive steel and concrete structures weigh approximately 1,200 tons and stabilize the building by counteracting movements caused by wind.

For all the luxury inside, you’d never know it all started with a trash can.

The influence of Josef Hoffmann’s wastepaper basket on 432 Park Avenue highlights the beauty of finding inspiration in everyday objects. The ability to transform a humble item into the basis for an architectural marvel speaks volumes about Rafael Viñoly’s ingenuity and creative vision.

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Source: “NYC’s $1.3B Supertall Skyscraper Was Inspired by a Trash Can” — Wired

WTF Fun Fact 13355 – Importance of Your Stomach Lining

The mucus in your stomach lining is the unsung hero of your digestive system.

Have you ever wondered why the stomach can digest the things you consume but stops short of digesting itself?

The role of your stomach lining

Mucus may not be something you think about often, but it plays a vital role in our digestive system. And it’s particularly important in the stomach. The mucus lining in our stomach is essential for protecting its delicate tissues from the harsh acidic environment needed to digest food.

Obviously, our stomachs are responsible for breaking down the food we eat. This process involves hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes, which work together to break down proteins and other food components.

These acids and enzymes are necessary for digestion, but they can also pose a risk to the stomach’s tissues.

And that’s where the stomach lining comes in. If it weren’t for that protective mucus layer, the stomach’s corrosive contents could cause real damage.

The Role of Mucus in Protecting the Stomach

The mucus lining in the stomach acts as a barrier, separating the stomach’s tissues from its acidic environment. It’s made up of water, electrolytes, and glycoproteins, which together form a thick, slippery substance. This mucus coating allows the stomach to carry out its digestive functions without harming its own tissues.

In addition to serving as a physical barrier, the mucus lining also contains substances called bicarbonates, which help neutralize the stomach’s acids. This neutralizing effect further protects the stomach lining from potential damage.

Maintaining a healthy mucus lining

A well-functioning mucus lining is essential for maintaining a healthy stomach. Several factors can contribute to a weakened or damaged mucus lining. These include stress, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and certain medications – even common ones like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

A healthy mucus lining requires a balanced diet and habits that promote overall digestive health. Eating foods rich in fiber, staying well-hydrated, and managing stress can all contribute to a healthy digestive system.

This allows your stomach mucus to create a barrier between the stomach lining and the acidic environment, preventing the stomach from “digesting itself.”

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Source: “Watch: Episode 3: Why doesn’t your stomach digest itself?” — STAT News

WTF Fun Fact 13354 – The Longest Breath Hold

Aleix Segura Vendrell set a record for the breath hold in 2016. To be precise, it was the longest static apnea breath-hold with pure oxygen pre-breathing. This means that Vendrell breathed pure oxygen before holding his breath, which allowed him to extend the duration. This category is separate from the “no oxygen assistance” static apnea records, in which the individual does not use any external oxygen source before holding their breath. As a result, he held his breath for an astounding 24 minutes and 3.45 seconds.

The world record for longest breath hold

Vendrell’s record was set in the static apnea category with pure oxygen pre-breathing, which means he inhaled pure oxygen before holding his breath. This technique saturates the blood and tissues with oxygen, allowing for a longer hold compared to normal air intake. Pre-breathing pure oxygen is not allowed in the “no oxygen assistance” static apnea category. In that category, athletes rely solely on their natural ability to hold their breath.

Freedivers like Vendrell undergo physiological adaptations that enable them to hold their breath for extended periods. One such adaptation is the mammalian dive reflex, a set of responses triggered by immersion in water. This reflex causes the heart rate to slow down (bradycardia), blood vessels in the extremities to constrict (peripheral vasoconstriction), and the spleen to release more oxygen-rich red blood cells into the bloodstream. These adaptations help conserve oxygen and prioritize its delivery to vital organs, such as the brain and heart.

Training for greatness

Another crucial adaptation is the ability to tolerate high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the body. As CO2 levels rise during a breath hold, the urge to breathe becomes more intense. Freedivers train to withstand this urge, allowing them to maintain their breath-hold for longer durations.

Holding one’s breath for an extended period is not without risks. Hypoxia, a state of oxygen deprivation, can lead to loss of consciousness, brain damage, or even death. Therefore, it is essential that freedivers and those attempting long breath-holds take necessary precautions and undergo proper training to minimize these risks.

Safety personnel and medical staff supervise freediving competitions and record attempts to ensure that athletes receive immediate assistance if any complications arise. Additionally, freedivers often follow specific training regimens, gradually increasing their breath-hold durations and practicing techniques to manage the physical and mental challenges associated with this feat.

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Source: “What It Takes to Hold Your Breath for 24 Minutes (Yeah, It’s a Thing)” — Wired

WTF Fun Fact 13353 – New Deepfake Research

New deepfake research is attempting to resurrect victims of crime for the common good. Of course, like all deepfakes, this too raises ethical concerns.

How new deepfake research brings people “back from the dead”

Deepfakes are a technology that uses artificial intelligence to create hyper-realistic images and videos of people. But so far, they’ve largely been misused to spread misinformation.

Now, researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Michigan are now exploring the possibility of using deepfake resurrections to promote the public good.

Their study focuses on “deepfake resurrections.” This refers to bringing deceased individuals virtually “back to life” using AI-generated images and videos. The researchers emphasize that their approach is different from controversial cases of deepfake resurrections, such as the ones used for political manipulation or commercial purposes. Instead, they aim to explore scenarios where deepfake resurrections could have a positive impact on society.

Can this technology be used for good?

The researchers conducted a study involving approximately 2,000 participants to explore the potential applications of deepfake resurrections. In this study, they focused on creating deepfake resurrections of victims of drunk driving and domestic violence. The aim was to examine the reactions of the participants and assess whether such resurrections could effectively raise awareness about these pressing social issues.

By using deepfake resurrections to share the stories of these victims, the researchers sought to humanize the issues and evoke empathy in the audience.

However, the PSA had little effect and a more negative than positive reaction. The researchers chalked this up to the lack of trust in deepfakes overall, noting that this affected the effectiveness of deepfake resurrections in raising awareness about social issues.

Ethical considerations

The exploration of deepfake resurrections for the public good raises several ethical questions. One major concern is consent. Since the deceased cannot provide consent, the researchers suggest obtaining permission from the deceased’s estate or family members. This would require creating guidelines to ensure that deepfake resurrections are used in a manner that respects the individual’s legacy and values.

Another ethical consideration is the potential emotional impact on the deceased’s loved ones. While some may find comfort in deepfake resurrections, others might perceive it as a disturbing or disrespectful act. To address this concern, researchers propose involving mental health professionals in the development of deepfake resurrections to ensure they are created with sensitivity and empathy.

Lastly, there is the question of authenticity. The researchers acknowledge the potential for deepfake resurrections to spread misinformation or perpetuate false narratives. To mitigate this risk, they suggest that deepfake resurrections should be transparently labeled as such and accompanied by disclaimers.

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Source: “Dying To Tell You: “Deepfake Resurrections” To Promote Public Good Explored By Researchers” — IFL Science