WTF Fun Fact 13515 – Basketball Backboard

The basketball backboard wasn’t invented for the reason you think.

The backboard stands out not just for its functional relevance in today’s game but also for its surprising origin. Contrary to popular belief, the backboard wasn’t initially introduced for the bank shot or to guide rebounds. It was there to prevent overly enthusiastic fans from interfering!

Basketball History

Dr. James Naismith, a physical education instructor from Canada, invented basketball in 1891. He was trying to create a game that could be played indoors during the winter. So he thought up a sport involving a ball and two peach baskets.

Naismith drafted a set of thirteen rules for this new game. However, those original rules didn’t account for the human factor—specifically, the enthusiasm of spectators.

As basketball games started to draw larger crowds, a problem became apparent. The fans, seated on a running track that circled above the gym floor of Springfield College, leaned over the railing and either deflected the ball as shots were made or caught it and threw it to favor one side.

Given the close proximity of these early spectators to the action, it was tempting for them to become a part of the game themselves.

The Introduction of the Basketball Backboard

To counter this unexpected disruption, officials deemed a physical barrier necessary. The solution? A backboard placed directly behind the basket. Initially made of wire and later wood, these backboards served as a fence to prevent interference, ensuring the game remained fair and wasn’t swayed by overzealous fans.

It’s intriguing to think that an element of the game so crucial to strategies and point-scoring was introduced not for the players but to keep the audience in check!

Evolution and Unintended Consequences

With the introduction of the backboard, players soon discovered they could use it as a tool to assist in scoring. This gave birth to the “bank shot,” where players bounce the ball off the backboard to get it into the basket. This unforeseen consequence added depth and strategy to the game.

Furthermore, as the game progressed and rules evolved, the material and specifications of the backboard changed. From the initial wire and wooden structures, today’s backboards are often made of shatterproof glass, which is both durable and allows spectators a clear view of the action.

While its original purpose was to deter fan interference, the backboard has become an integral part of basketball strategy. Players spend hours perfecting bank shots and learning the angles. It plays a role in defense strategies, as players block or “box out” opponents to control rebounds.

Moreover, the slam dunk, one of the most celebrated moves in basketball, often involves players making strong jumps and using the backboard to slam the ball down into the net, adding flair and drama to the game.

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Source: “The History of the Basketball Backboard” — SportsRec

WTF Fun Fact 13513 – Apple Mouse Prototype

Innovation often comes from the most unexpected places–like a roll-on deodorant. Believe it or nor, the first Apple mouse prototype involved a deodorant ball.

Setting the Scene

The early 1980s was a transformative era for personal computing. The market was teeming with potential, and Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, recognized the importance of a user-friendly interface.

While visiting Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Jobs was introduced to the concept of a graphical user interface and a device to navigate it: the mouse.

Enchanted by its potential, Jobs sought to integrate this technology into Apple’s computers. However, the existing design was clunky, costly, and far from the elegant solution Apple desired.

Birth of the Apple Mouse

Jobs handed the task of redesigning the mouse to Dean Hovey, a co-founder of the design firm IDEO. The challenge was clear: create a more efficient, durable, and above all, affordable mouse for the masses.

Hovey, in his endeavor to revolutionize the mouse’s design, found inspiration in an unlikely source: a deodorant stick. By taking apart a roll-on deodorant, Hovey observed that the ball could roll smoothly in any direction. This ball mechanism, he realized, could be the solution to creating a mouse that was both precise and cost-effective.

From Prototype to Product

Utilizing the deodorant ball, the team developed a prototype that was simpler and more efficient than its predecessors. It was an embodiment of Apple’s design philosophy — taking complex ideas and making them accessible and intuitive for the user.

But why was the deodorant ball so transformative? The key lay in its omnidirectional capability. Previous mouse designs often used wheels, limiting movement to two axes: horizontal and vertical.

The deodorant ball’s ability to roll freely in all directions allowed for more fluid and accurate on-screen movements, a feature that would become fundamental to the mouse’s operation.

Impact of the Apple Mouse

The Apple mouse, with its deodorant-inspired design, debuted in 1983 with the Apple Lisa computer, and a year later, with the iconic Apple Macintosh. Its release marked a paradigm shift in human-computer interaction, paving the way for the mouse to become an essential accessory for personal computers worldwide.

Though the internal mechanics of mice have evolved over the years, with laser and optical technologies replacing the ball mechanism, the foundational concept remains largely unchanged. The success of the Apple mouse laid the groundwork for future innovations in interface devices, from trackpads to touch screens.

Today, as we swipe, tap, and click our way through digital landscapes, it’s worth reflecting on the humble origins of the tools we often take for granted. The next time you roll on your deodorant, remember: it’s not just a daily ritual but a nod to a piece of technological history that helped shape the digital age.

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Source: “How the Guy Who Designed 1 of Apple’s Most Iconic Products Organizes His Office” — Inc.

WTF Fun Fact 13510 – Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair

Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair was auctioned off for a staggering $387,000 in 2018.

In addition to his groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of the universe, Hawking’s name evokes an image of a man in a wheelchair, speaking through a voice synthesizer—a testament to his fierce determination and willpower in the face of a debilitating motor neuron disease.

Stephen Hawking and His Legacy

Before diving into the story of the iconic wheelchair, it’s essential to grasp the breadth of Hawking’s influence. Born in 1942, he made substantial contributions to cosmology, particularly in black hole dynamics and the nature of the universe.

His best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, made intricate cosmological concepts accessible to the general public, ensuring his place not just within the scientific community but also in popular culture.

Hawking’s motor neuron disease diagnosis at the age of 21 was a life-altering moment. Doctors predicted a short lifespan, but he surpassed all expectations by living till the age of 76.

As the disease progressed, mobility became a challenge, and the wheelchair became an integral part of his life. It wasn’t just a tool for movement; it became synonymous with his identity, symbolizing his resilience and the human spirit’s triumph over adversity.

Auctioning Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair

In 2018, Christie’s auction house in London announced “On the Shoulders of Giants,” an auction featuring items belonging to several renowned scientists, including Hawking. The most poignant item was undoubtedly Hawking’s wheelchair, a piece of modern history.

The wheelchair, used by Hawking in the late 1980s and early 1990s, garnered significant attention. While it was an older model and not the high-tech version he used later in life, its historical and symbolic value was immense. The mere fact that such a personal item from a living legend was up for grabs drew significant global attention.

Hawking’s decision to auction his wheelchair was rooted in his commitment to giving back to the community. The proceeds from the sale were designated for two charitable causes close to his heart: The Stephen Hawking Foundation, which supports neurological research and promotes science education, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association, dedicated to supporting individuals like Hawking who face the challenges of this condition.

Bidding on History

The auction saw fervent bidding, with the wheelchair eventually selling for approximately $387,000 – a figure far surpassing initial estimates. The winning bid was not just for a mobility device but a piece of history. The buyer, whose identity remained anonymous, now owned a symbol of determination, brilliance, and the indomitable human spirit.

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Source: “Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair and Thesis Fetch More Than $1 Million at Auction” — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 13509 – Wineries in Slovenia

Did you know there are a ton of wineries in Slovenia? It’s not thought of as a typical wine region, but this small European country takes its wine seriously. Very seriously.

Nestled between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, Slovenia might be modest in size, but its gigantic in its passion for winemaking. With approximately 28,000 wineries scattered across its picturesque landscapes, there’s a winery for every 75 people in the country.

Historical Roots of Slovenian Winemaking

The tradition of winemaking in Slovenia runs deep. Archaeological findings suggest that viticulture existed in this region as far back as the Celtic and Illyrian tribes, long before the Romans introduced their winemaking techniques.

The country’s favorable Mediterranean and Alpine climates, combined with its diverse terrain, provided the ideal conditions for cultivating various grape varieties.

Its wine regions are strikingly diverse, each imparting its own unique character to the wines produced:

  1. Primorska: Primorska is adjacent to Italy’s Friuli region, and is influenced by the warm Mediterranean climate. We know this region for its full-bodied reds and aromatic whites.
  2. Podravje: Situated in the northeast, this region produces primarily white wines, often with a characteristic minerality thanks to its hilly terrain.
  3. Posavje: Located in the country’s southeast, it’s known for its traditional method of winemaking, producing lighter, fresh wines.

The Unique Wine Offerings of Wineries in Slovenia

Slovenia’s winemaking isn’t just about volume; it’s about offering unique experiences. Many Slovenian wineries use traditional methods. Winemakers may ferment the wine in large egg-shaped containers buried underground or aged in oak barrels.

The nation also prides itself on its orange wines. These are white wines made by leaving the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice, giving them their distinctive color.

Beyond traditional techniques, Slovenian winemakers are at the forefront of the organic and biodynamic winemaking movements. Many vineyards avoid synthetic chemicals, aiming to produce wines in the most natural way possible.

Wine enthusiasts laud Slovenian wines for their authentic taste and eco-friendly production methods.

The Experience of Slovenia’s Wineries

It’s not only the wines themselves that captivate visitors but the entire wine-tasting experience. Many Slovenian wineries are family-run, offering intimate tours where guests can immerse themselves in the entire winemaking process, from grape harvesting to the fermentation process, all while soaking in breathtaking views of rolling vineyards. As a result, these experiences often culminate in rustic cellars. Here, visitors can sample wines paired with local delicacies, making the entire journey memorable.

With one winery for every 75 people, it’s evident that winemaking isn’t just a hobby in Slovenia; it’s a way of life. The sheer number of wineries signifies the industry’s significance to Slovenia’s economy and cultural identity. Locals cherish their wine heritage, and annual wine festivals are a testament to this, celebrating the country’s viticultural accomplishments.

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WTF Fun Fact 13508 – Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum

If you know a kid obsessed with dinosaurs, you may have heard of Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum. If not, you should let that kid know about this creature immediately because it’s pretty cool.

The Discovery and Classification of Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum

When we think of the most impressive creatures that ever roamed the Earth, our minds often dart to the giants of the Mesozoic Era – the mighty dinosaurs. Among these behemoths, one dinosaur stands out for the astounding length of just one part of its anatomy: its neck.

Meet the Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum, a species of dinosaur that boasted a neck almost 50 feet long. That’s a neck six times longer than that of today’s tallest land animal, the giraffe!

Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum belongs to a group of dinosaurs called the sauropods. They are recognized by their long necks, long tails, and massive bodies supported by four thick, pillar-like legs. Although several sauropods had impressively long necks, the Mamenchisaurus goes well beyond the rest!

The species was unearthed in China and was a significant find for paleontologists. These findings provided more information about the diverse world of sauropods and the different evolutionary paths they might have taken.

A Neck to Marvel At

At nearly 50 feet long, the neck of Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum was a true wonder of nature. To put it into perspective, that’s longer than a school bus and almost as long as a bowling lane! But what evolutionary benefits did such a lengthy neck provide?

Foraging Strategy
With such an extended reach, this dinosaur could access food sources that were out of reach for other herbivores. This reduced the competition for food. It also allowed the creature to graze over a larger area without having to move its massive body frequently.

Cooling Mechanism
Some theories suggest that a long neck could have served as a cooling mechanism. The large surface area could have helped dissipate heat. This may have been vital for such massive creatures that might have struggled to maintain an optimal body temperature.

Display and Mating
In the animal kingdom, impressive physical features often play a role in mating displays. Though speculative, it’s possible that longer necks might have been seen as more attractive or dominant. This would help individuals with longer necks secure a mate.

The Anatomy Behind the Length

The length and weight of such a neck would require robust support and respiratory systems. Vertebrae would have been elongated and possibly hollowed in sections to reduce weight. Air sacs might have been present to aid in breathing, similar to modern birds. The neck’s muscle and tendon structure would also need to be incredibly strong. But it would also have to be flexible to support and maneuver this impressive length.

Comparing Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum to the Modern Giraffe

Modern-day giraffe necks measure approximately 8 feet in length and pale in comparison to the neck of the Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum. However, both animals show that evolution can lead to some astounding anatomical features when they provide an advantage.

It’s intriguing to imagine how these two creatures, separated by millions of years, navigated their habitats with such long necks.

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Source: “This Dinosaur Had a 50-Foot-Long Neck, Scientists Say” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13507 – Fifth Wheel for Parallel Parking

Did you know cars almost had a fifth wheel for parallel parking? Why would something so useful fail to evolve into an everyday feature? Have you seen people parallel park?! They need all the help they can get.

The Story of the Fifth Wheel for Parallel Parking

Now, for anyone who’s ever lived in a bustling city or tried to find a parking spot along a crowded street, the challenges of parallel parking are all too familiar. The maneuver requires precise calculation, impeccable timing, and a well-practiced technique, especially when the available space is barely larger than the car itself.

In the early 20th century, as automobiles increasingly filled the streets, the need for an efficient parking solution became evident. The “fifth wheel” seemed poised to transform parallel parking forever.

Patented in the 1930s, the idea was surprisingly simple: it was a perpendicular wheel could be deployed from the rear of the car, lifting the back tires slightly off the ground.

This fifth wheel, positioned at a right angle to the car’s other wheels, would then allow the vehicle to move laterally, making the parallel parking process straightforward and stress-free. With this invention, drivers wouldn’t need to anxiously navigate their vehicle back and forth to fit into tight spaces; the fifth wheel would do the work for them.

So, Why Didn’t the Fifth Wheel Take Off?

With all these apparent advantages, it’s perplexing that the fifth wheel didn’t become a standard feature in automobiles. But there were several reasons that contributed to its decline (though none of them seem good enough).

  1. Integrating a fifth wheel system into vehicles would complicate the car’s design, leading to higher production costs. Consumers might have been hesitant to pay extra for this feature.
  2. An additional wheel means more parts that could malfunction or require upkeep, potentially deterring consumers and manufacturers alike.
  3. As cities grew, multi-story parking garages and lots started to become more commonplace, reducing the emphasis on street parking.
  4. Over the decades, other innovations like power steering, parking sensors, and rearview cameras emerged, making the parallel parking process more manageable.

A Symbol of Automotive Curiosity

The “fifth wheel” is a reminder that even the most creative solutions sometimes don’t find their place in the mainstream. Even when they might lead to less road rage.

Future self-parking cars and advancements in AI-driven vehicle technologies may make the challenges of parallel parking seem almost quaint. But that’s the future, and this is now. And we still see people struggling to parallel park and holding up traffic in the meantime! So maybe someone should see if that patent has expired and make another run at it!

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Source: “The ingenious “fifth wheel” parallel parking tool that never hit it big” — Hagerty Media

WTF Fun Fact 13494 – John Wilkins’ 17th-Century Moon Mission

The first “moon mission” was dreamed up in the 17th century by a clergyman named John Wilkins.

Though the technologies of his time were rudimentary, Wilkins’ imagination and theories displayed a unique combination of audacity and scientific curiosity.

Early Life and Philosophical Leanings

John Wilkins was born in 1614. He was an Anglican clergyman and a founding member of the Royal Society, a body dedicated to the promotion of natural science. Wilkins was a polymath with interests ranging from theology to mathematics and cryptography. These varied interests equipped him with a unique perspective when it came to observing and understanding the cosmos.

John Wilkins’ Plurality of Worlds

Central to Wilkins’ astronomical ideas was the belief in a “plurality of worlds.” This concept was embraced by several thinkers of the era. It postulated that planets and celestial bodies, including the moon, were worlds much like Earth.

By this logic, the moon wasn’t just a shining orb in the sky. It was a place with landscapes, atmospheres, and perhaps even inhabitants. This revolutionary idea was radical and contrary to the predominant geocentric worldview upheld by many in the church.

In 1640, Wilkins published “A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another Planet.” In it, he explored the feasibility of humans traveling to the moon and other planets. He argued that if the moon were a world similar to Earth, humans should be able to travel there. Given the technological constraints of the 17th century, this was a bold proposition. His methods, in hindsight, were understandably primitive.

John Wilkins and the Flying Chariot

Wilkins believed that a “flying chariot” could take humans to the moon. This vehicle would be propelled by wings attached to it, a bit like the way birds fly. He theorized that the chariot’s wings would require less flapping the further it got from Earth due to the thinning atmosphere.

Additionally, he speculated on the absence of gravity in space. He noted that as one ascended, the pull of Earth’s gravitational force would diminish, making it easier to move around. Though rudimentary, such thoughts were a precursor to our modern understanding of the vacuum of space and microgravity environments.

Of course, not everyone was taken in by Wilkins’ ideas. His contemporaries raised various objections. Some focused on the theological implications. If there were beings on other planets, how did they fit into the Biblical narrative? Others doubted the physical feasibility. How would one breathe? How could wings work in the vacuum of space?

Wilkins tackled these questions head-on. He hypothesized that space wasn’t entirely devoid of air. Instead, the atmosphere thinned out but never completely disappeared, providing just enough air for breathing.

Legacy and the Dawn of Space Exploration

Though Wilkins’ moon mission ideas were not actualized in his lifetime, his speculations played a pivotal role in sparking interest in interplanetary exploration. His works represented a significant shift from purely observational astronomy to a more practical, exploration-driven approach.

Space exploration took another three centuries to become a reality. However, the philosophical and theoretical foundation was set in Wilkins’ era.

His thoughts, radical as they were, underscore the human spirit’s relentless quest for knowledge and exploration.

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Source: “The 17​th​-Century Moon Mission That Never Got Off the Ground” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13493 – Pythagoras and Beans

The stories surrounding Pythagoras and beans are almost too silly to believe. But multiple sources seem to corroborate the mathematician-philosopher’s hatred of beans as well as his belief that the gas they gave people let part of their souls escape.

Pythagoras’ Aversion to Beans

Before we explore the bean mystery, it’s essential to understand the man himself. Pythagoras lived between 570-495 BCE and is best known for the Pythagorean theorem, which relates to the three sides of a right triangle. However, he also established a religious movement known as Pythagoreanism, which combined elements of mathematics, spirituality, and philosophy.

Pythagoras held influence that extended well beyond the realm of mathematics. One of the most peculiar aspects of Pythagorean doctrine was the prohibition against consuming beans. But why did the great mathematician and his followers abstain from beans?

Central to Pythagorean belief was the doctrine of transmigration or metempsychosis. This concept posits that souls are immortal and, upon death, move into another living being.

The nature of the next life, according to this doctrine, depended on one’s actions in the previous one. Leading a virtuous life could lead to reincarnation in a higher form, while an immoral life could result in a lower one.

Beans: The Window to the Soul?

Here’s where beans enter the narrative. Multiple theories aim to explain the Pythagorean aversion to beans, and they’re all intriguing.

  1. The Resemblance Theory: Some ancient sources suggest that beans were thought to resemble the human fetus, and therefore, consuming them was akin to eating human flesh. This act could disrupt the cycle of transmigration, trapping souls and preventing them from reaching their next destination.
  2. The Flatulence Theory: Another theory hinges on the idea that beans, known for causing flatulence, would allow souls to escape from the body prematurely. In essence, eating beans might inadvertently release a soul before its time.
  3. The Blood Connection: Some Pythagoreans believed that beans and human beings were formed from the same material. It was said that if one were to bury a bean, it would turn into a human-like embryo. Thus, consuming beans was seen as a form of cannibalism.
  4. Nutritional and Digestive Reasons: Beyond mystical reasons, it’s plausible that Pythagoreans avoided beans due to their dietary practices. Beans can be hard to digest for some, leading to discomfort and health issues.

The prohibition against beans wasn’t the only dietary restriction that Pythagoreans adhered to. They followed a predominantly vegetarian diet, believing that animals had souls and consuming them would harm the cycle of transmigration.

This holistic view of all life forms underscored the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. This is also a foundational tenet of Pythagorean philosophy.

Death by Bean Field?

The association between Pythagoras and beans took a dramatic twist with accounts of his death. Several ancient sources, including the biographer Diogenes Laertius, recount a tale where Pythagoras met his end in a bean field. Fleeing from his enemies, he supposedly came across a bean field and, due to his aversion to beans, refused to cross it. This hesitation allowed his pursuers to catch up with him, leading to his demise.

While this story seems allegorical and its authenticity is debated, it underscores the profound significance beans held in Pythagoras’s life and teachings.

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Source: “From Communing With Animals to Obsessive Bean Hatred, Pythagoras Was One Weird Dude” — The Daily Beast

WTF Fun Fact 13486 – Mamihlapinatapai, the Most Succinct Word

Certain words defy easy translation since they embody ideas or emotions so complex – one such word is “mamihlapinatapai.”

This word hails from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago split between Chile and Argentina. The term was recognized in the 1994 Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most “succinct word.” (Unfortunately, today, their tribe has dwindled to fewer than 2,000 members, with most speaking Spanish instead of their native tongue.)

Mamihlapinatapai, the Untranslatable Emotion

Mamihlapinatapai is defined as “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.”

The word’s complexity and its lack of a direct translation into English or other major languages have earned it a spot among the world’s favorite “untranslatables.”

It wasn’t until the late 2000s that the term mamihlapinatapai started appearing all over the internet. People were fascinated. Artists found inspiration in the term, incorporating it into their songs, exhibitions, and books.

More Than Just Romance

Of course, just as internet fame changes a person, it can change a word. While mamihlapinatapai often evokes romantic notions, its application now extends to other areas. For example, in gaming theory, it refers to the volunteer’s dilemma, where an individual player might have to make a sacrifice for the collective benefit.

Despite the global recognition of mamihlapinatapai, the Yaghan language is teetering on the brink of extinction. It has no linguistic relatives. The last guardian of this language is Cristina Calderon, the only fluent living speaker of Yaghan!

Despite the impending threat to the Yaghan language, there’s hope. Calderon has been teaching her granddaughter some Yaghan, and they have published books to preserve Yaghan culture and history. This effort to pass on the language and culture to the next generation is a critical step in preserving this endangered language.

Internet Fame: A Blessing or a Curse?

While the global recognition of mamihlapinatapai has introduced the world to the Yaghan language and culture, it has also brought unwanted media attention to the Yaghan community. The fame of a single word, however, does not ensure the survival of the language.

The story of mamihlapinatapai is a testament to language’s ability to capture the subtleties of human experience. It serves as a stark reminder of the loss we face as languages dwindle and disappear, taking with them unique cultural perspectives and understanding.

The tale of this word reminds us that each language offers its unique prism through which we can view and understand the world.

Wondering how to pronounce this complex word? Check out this video (but you’ll probably need to listen a few times to catch it):

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Source: “How the Internet Changed the Meaning of ‘Mamihlapinatapai’” — Atlas Obscura