WTF Fun Fact 13753 – Mayans Used Chocolate as Currency

The Mayans had an intriguing and unique use for chocolate. They didn’t just drink it; they used it as money. Yes, you read that right—chocolate was currency. The Maya civilization, which thrived in Mesoamerica, innovatively integrated chocolate into their economy. Let’s dive into how this delicious system worked.

Chocolate in the Mayan Economy

The Mayans were among the first to cultivate cacao trees. They valued cacao beans highly. These beans were not just food; they were wealth. Cacao beans became a standardized form of currency. People used them to buy goods and pay for services. Archaeological evidence shows that Mayans traded cacao beans for items like food, clothes, and tools.

Imagine going to the market and buying groceries with chocolate beans. This was everyday life for the Mayans. The beans were lightweight, portable, and valuable. This made them an ideal currency for trade and commerce.

The Value of Cacao Beans to the Mayans

Cacao beans had a set value. A single bean could buy a tamale, a small meal. Ten beans could get you a rabbit. The Mayans even paid taxes with cacao beans. This system worked because cacao trees thrived in the region. The beans were always in supply but still valuable enough to function as money.

Not everyone had access to cacao trees, though. This made cacao beans even more precious. The beans became a symbol of wealth and power. Elite Mayans often consumed chocolate drinks as a luxury. This further elevated the status of cacao beans in their society.

The Cultural Significance of Chocolate

Chocolate had deep cultural significance for the Mayans. They believed cacao had divine properties. Mayan mythology stated that cacao was a gift from the gods. Consuming it was a spiritual act. Chocolate drinks were part of religious rituals and ceremonies. Priests and nobles drank it during sacred events.

This cultural importance added another layer to cacao’s value. It wasn’t just a commodity; it was sacred. The spiritual aspect of cacao enhanced its worth as currency. People revered it not just for its taste but for its connection to the divine.

How Cacao Beans Became Money

The transition from food to currency was practical. The beans were small, durable, and easy to count. They didn’t spoil quickly, making them reliable for long-term storage. The Mayans stored cacao beans in large quantities, ensuring they had a stable currency.

Markets and trade centers used cacao beans as the standard for transactions. This consistency helped the economy run smoothly. It wasn’t just local trade; cacao beans facilitated regional commerce too. The beans crossed borders, making them a widespread form of money.

The End of Cacao Currency

The use of cacao as currency faded with the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish conquest disrupted Mayan society and economy. They introduced new forms of currency, such as coins and paper money. However, cacao beans remained valuable for a while. The Spanish even adopted chocolate drinks from the Mayans, spreading its popularity in Europe.

The decline of cacao currency marked the end of an era. Yet, the legacy of chocolate lives on. Today, we enjoy chocolate in various forms. Few people know its rich history as money. The Mayans’ innovative use of cacao beans showcases their ingenuity and cultural depth.

The Legacy of the Mayans & Chocolate

Cacao remains a significant crop in regions once inhabited by the Mayans. Modern-day countries like Mexico and Guatemala continue to grow cacao. The cultural and economic impact of cacao endures. Farmers today still value the beans, though for different reasons.

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Source: “The Maya civilization used chocolate as money” — Science

WTF Fun Fact 13752 – Top of the Totem Pole

Many people think the top of the totem pole is the most important. This belief is flat-out wrong. The bottom is often the most significant. Understanding this is crucial to appreciating totem poles properly. Let’s explore why people misunderstand totem poles and why the bottom matters more.

Totem poles come from Indigenous cultures in the Pacific Northwest. They are intricate carvings representing family crests, legends, or important events. These tall structures tell stories, and each figure on the pole has a purpose. People often believe the figure at the top holds the most importance. However, this is a big misconception.

The top figure is often the least important. Carvers place the most significant figures at the bottom. This positioning keeps them closer to the people who view the pole. The bottom figures usually represent the family’s main totems or the most powerful animals and spirits. This placement ensures they receive the most attention and respect.

Bottom Figures: The Real MVPs

Consider the Haida totem poles. The Haida are a Native American tribe from the Pacific Northwest. Haida poles often feature the most crucial figures at the base. For example, the “Wasgo” or sea-wolf appears at the bottom. The sea-wolf symbolizes strength and bravery. Placing it at the bottom highlights its importance to the Haida people.

The Tlingit people also follow this practice. The Tlingit often carve their most important clan crests at the bottom. A bear or raven at the base signifies respect and honor. This positioning shows that these animals play a crucial role in their cultural stories and beliefs.

Another example is the Kwakwaka’wakw totem poles. The Kwakwaka’wakw carve poles that tell family histories. The most critical ancestors or animals are at the bottom. This placement ensures that viewers first see the most important elements of the family’s story.

Totem Pole Misunderstandings

Why do people get it wrong? Western culture often values the top position. People assume the highest point signifies the most importance. In many hierarchies, like corporate structures, the top position means power and authority. This mindset leads to the misunderstanding of totem poles.

Movies and media also perpetuate this myth. Hollywood often shows the top of the totem pole as the prime spot. This depiction misleads people into thinking that the top is the best. Understanding totem poles requires setting aside these assumptions.

The term “low man on the totem pole” is misleading too. It implies that being at the bottom means less importance. In reality, being at the bottom of a totem pole often means holding great significance. This phrase does a disservice to the true meaning and cultural importance of totem poles.

Embracing the Correct Perspective

We need to respect and understand Indigenous cultures better. Recognizing the true structure of totem poles is a start. This knowledge honors the cultural practices and beliefs of the tribes that create these poles.

Next time you see a totem pole, take a closer look. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Appreciate the figures at the base. They are often the key to understanding the story and significance of the pole. Respect the carvers’ intentions and the cultural meanings behind each figure.

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Source: “Totem Pole” — The Canadian Encyclopedia

WTF Fun Fact 13748 – The Klondike Big Inch Land Co.

Have you heard of the Klondike Big Inch Land Co.? It all goes back to oats and land deeds, naturally.

This story starts with a promotional stunt by Quaker Oats in the 1950s that turned into an unexpected collector’s item, worth more today than anyone could have guessed back when “Challenge of the Yukon” echoed in the living rooms across America.

Quaker Oats’ Land Rush Stunt

Back in 1954, in a promotional stunt tied to the radio show “Challenge of the Yukon,” Quaker Oats purchased 19.11 acres of land in the Yukon Territory, the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush region. They cleverly subdivided this acreage into 21 million tiny, one-square-inch plots. Each plot was represented by an official-looking deed. These were created by the Klondike Big Inch Land Co., a company Quaker Oats had established for this purpose.

These miniature deeds were placed inside boxes of Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice. The campaign was an instant hit. It captured the imaginations of Americans who were thrilled at the notion of owning a piece of the fabled Klondike. Some fans, myself included, collected hundreds of these deeds, aiming to amass a larger piece of the plot.

The Deeds of the Klondike Big Inch Land Co.

The deeds themselves were works of art: elegant green curlicues bordering cream-colored certificates. Each had a stamp with a unique certificate number and an official-looking red seal. An orange map detailed the location of each plot, adding a touch of authenticity and adventure. They promised ownership in a far-off land, albeit only a square inch.

However, the reality was less grand. Quaker Oats never intended these deeds to be legal titles to real estate. They didn’t include mineral rights, and the company didn’t register them. That would have been a logistical nightmare because of the number of deeds issued. Essentially, these deeds were novelties, albeit highly detailed ones.

Despite their questionable legal value, these deeds have become valuable collectibles. Pristine deeds can fetch between $25 and $45 each. This makes the stash of 72 deeds found by a reader potentially worth over $1,800. They represent a unique piece of promotional history, tying back to a time when radio shows were king, and cereal boxes could contain treasures.

The promotion ended, and in 1965, Quaker Oats dissolved the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. The land reverted back to Canada. PepsiCo absorbed Quaker Oats itself in PepsiCo in 2001, but the legend of the Klondike Big Inch lives on among collectors and enthusiasts.

Lessons from a Klondike Big Inch

This episode serves as a fascinating case study in marketing, novelty, and the human penchant for collecting. It also serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of understanding what one truly owns. For those holding these deeds, they own a piece of history, if not a piece of the land.

As a footnote, if you find yourself in possession of such curiosities, consider their historical and collectible value before dismissing them as mere novelties.

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Source: “Taking Stock: Decades-old deed to one square inch of Canada’s Yukon Territory has some value” — The Oklahoman

WTF Fun Fact 13746 – More Parking Lots Than Housing

Oddly enough, some cities have gone to such great lengths to accommodate cars that they now have more parking lots than housing!

The city landscape across America reveals a startling fact: in many places, there’s more room for cars than for people. From Seattle to Des Moines, the concrete sprawl of these lots often surpasses the space set aside for housing. This phenomenon isn’t just an urban planner’s nightmare; it’s a real puzzle for anyone trying to find a vibrant city life amidst the vast concrete expanses.

A Concrete Jungle Where There’s More Parking Than Housing

Imagine a city where cars have more room to rest than people do to live. This isn’t a futuristic dystopia; it’s the reality in several U.S. cities where parking lots devour city centers. It turns out we have not only sacrificed urban vitality at the altar of convenience but also transformed downtowns into mere waypoints rather than destinations.

In cities like Seattle, the ratio of parking spaces to housing units is staggering. Seattle boasts about 30 spaces for every acre, overwhelming the number of residential units five to one. Down in Des Moines, the scenario gets more dire with a parking-to-housing ratio of 20 to 1 per acre. These cities, famed for their ever-rising skyscrapers, surprisingly cater more to vehicles than to residents.

The Parking Lot Takeover

The sprawl gets absurd when you head to places like Arlington, Texas, or Detroit, Michigan—cities where the car is king and the pedestrian is a pauper. Arlington’s city center dedicates a whopping 39% of its land to parking. Detroit, the famed Motor City, isn’t far behind, dedicating about a third of its downtown to car spaces. These areas have become so optimized for cars that finding anything else to do can feel like a scavenger hunt.

What’s the big deal, you might ask? Beyond the obvious urban blight, this sea of parking has profound implications. City centers that prioritize parking over accessibility tend to lack the density that makes urban areas vibrant and walkable. The result? Cities that are easy to drive to but not worth staying in. Moreover, this excess of concrete slabs drives up real estate prices, making urban housing scarcer and more expensive.

A Shift Toward More Livable Cities

Despite these challenges, not all cities have succumbed to the parking plague. Washington, D.C., and San Francisco are leading by example, with only 4% and 3% of their downtown areas devoted to public parking, respectively. New York City tops the list with a mere 0.4% of midtown Manhattan given over to parking spaces.

This trend hints at a future where cities reclaim space from cars for people. As more Americans opt out of driving—thanks to the rise of ride-sharing, public transit improvements, and perhaps soon, autonomous vehicles—the demand for vast parking lots is set to decrease. This shift presents a golden opportunity for cities to transform car lots into parks, housing, and vibrant public spaces that foster community rather than car storage.

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Source: “These U.S. Cities Have More Parking Lots Than Housing” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13745 – Can Music Make Food Taste Better?

Can music make your food taste better?

Imagine savoring a plate of spaghetti while Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” plays softly in the background. Now, could Vivaldi be doing more than just setting the mood? Could it actually make your spaghetti taste better?

Research and some intriguing culinary experiments suggest music might just be the unexpected seasoning we’ve overlooked.

Sonic Seasoning

It’s no secret that a good playlist can enhance a party or a workout, but recent studies show that what you listen to while eating can influence how you perceive flavors. This concept, known as “sonic seasoning,” explores how different sounds can complement or enhance the taste of food. For instance, high pitches might make desserts taste sweeter, while deeper tones could make your steak seem richer.

Back in 2010, a groundbreaking study at Oxford University mapped tastes to musical elements. Researchers found that sweet and sour tastes were often associated with higher pitches, while umami and bitter tastes matched lower ones. Not only that, but certain instruments seemed to evoke specific flavors—brass instruments brought out bitterness, whereas pianos highlighted sweetness.

Culinary Scores to Make Food Taste Better

The idea of combining music with eating isn’t new. Medieval banquets sometimes featured live music alongside feasts, enhancing the sensory experience of dining. Fast forward to the 20th century, the Italian Futurists infused their meals with both music and bizarre theatrics, like their “polyrhythmic salad,” which was eaten while music played from a box turned by a crank.

Even the zany minds behind The Muppet Christmas Carol joked about the notion of “singing food,” a nod to dishes that literally perform as you eat them. And while it sounds like a punchline from a Muppet, the concept has its roots in real historical dining practices where food and entertainment were often intertwined.

Do Beats Bring Out the Flavors?

To see if there’s truth to the science, some food companies are already experimenting with sonic pairings. Barilla, for instance, teamed up with composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer to create the “Al Bronzo Soundtrack Experience.” This is aimed at enhancing the dining experience of specific pasta dishes through tailored musical tracks.

Imagine this: you’re about to fork into some rigatoni. According to Barilla, if you’re listening to twinkling bells and vocal accents, it might just make the cherry tomatoes in your dish taste sweeter and the bacon smokier. It’s a bold claim but one that invites foodies and skeptics alike to put it to the test.

The link between sound and taste might also tie into synesthesia. This is where the stimulation of one sense leads to involuntary experiences in another. Some synesthetes report tasting flavors when they hear certain sounds—a phenomenon that could explain why sonic seasoning might work.

Could it be that we all have a touch of synesthesia that allows us to experience more flavorful meals through the right playlist?

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Source: “Can Music Make Your Food Taste Better?” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13743 – Parachuting Beavers

Nope – it’s not a juvenile joke – there really is a story about parachuting beavers. 76 of them, to be exact.

More than seven decades ago, Idaho found itself with a peculiar problem involving beavers too accustomed to urban life. These beavers, having become a nuisance in the growing residential areas, needed new homes. The solution? Parachute them into the wilderness. Yes, you read that correctly: parachuting beavers.

Elmo Heter: The Man with the Plan

Elmo Heter, an officer with Idaho Fish and Game, faced the challenge of relocating beavers from populated areas like McCall, near Payette Lake, to the remote Chamberlain Basin. His ingenious plan involved some old parachutes left over from World War II and a healthy dose of innovation.

Heter knew that transporting beavers by land was fraught with challenges. Horses and mules tended to get spooked by the critters, and driving them through rugged terrain was costly and complex. So, he looked to the skies for an answer.

Dropping Beavers by Plane

Heter devised a method using surplus military parachutes to air-drop beavers into their new wilderness homes. The first task was creating a safe container for the beavers. Initial attempts with woven willow boxes were scrapped when it became apparent that the beavers might chew their way out mid-flight or cause havoc on the plane.

Thus, Heter designed a wooden box that would open upon impact with the ground. To test this innovative container, he chose a plucky male beaver named Geronimo as his first test pilot. Geronimo endured multiple drops to ensure the safety and efficacy of this method.

The Pioneer Parachuting Beaver

Heter dropped Geronimo repeatedly to test the resilience of the box and the beaver’s tolerance. Remarkably, Geronimo adapted well to his role. After numerous trials, he seemed almost eager to get back into his box for another drop. Heter’s plan was proving viable, and soon, it was time to scale up.

Geronimo’s final test flight included a one-way ticket to the Chamberlain Basin, where he joined three female beavers, establishing a new colony in what would become a thriving ecosystem. This land is now part of the protected Frank Church Wilderness.

The Legacy of the Parachuting Beavers

In total, 76 beavers were air-dropped into the wilderness. All but one survived the journey, and they quickly set about doing what beavers do best: building dams and creating habitats that benefit the entire ecosystem. This area is now part of the largest protected roadless forest in the lower 48 states.

The operation, initially seen as a quirky solution, turned out to be a remarkable success, showing that sometimes unconventional problems require unconventional solutions. The savings in manpower and reduction in beaver mortality proved that sometimes, the sky really is the limit.

Why You Won’t See Parachuting Beavers Today

Despite its success, the days of parachuting beavers have passed. Nowadays, the approach to problematic beavers is more about coexistence and less about relocation. The pioneering days of the 1940s, when men like Elmo Heter looked to parachutes to solve ecological challenges, are long gone. Yet, the descendants of those aerial adventurers likely still live on in the Frank Church Wilderness, a testament to one of the most unusual wildlife management efforts ever undertaken.

So, next time you spot a beaver in Idaho, remember that it might just be the descendant of a brave pioneer who once took an unexpected flight into history.

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Source: “Parachuting beavers into Idaho’s wilderness? Yes, it really happened” — Boise State Public Radio

WTF Fun Fact 13740 – The Vatican Regulates the Divine

The Vatican introduced a new set of guidelines aimed at scrutinizing claims of supernatural phenomena more rigorously. From weeping statues to miraculous healings, the Catholic Church is setting the bar high for what passes as a divine occurrence.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, responsible for promoting and safeguarding doctrine, has crafted these rules. They replace the older guidelines from 1978, marking a significant update in how the Church handles these mysterious claims.

A Call for Rigor and Rationality at the Vatican

At a media briefing last Friday, the Vatican made its stance clear: supernatural claims must undergo a thorough investigation to prevent fraud and exploitation. The Church aims to protect its credibility and unity, steering clear of scandals that could tarnish its image.

In an era where viral news can spread falsehoods in an instant, the guidelines stress the importance of careful validation. Reports of supernatural events have surged, propelled by the rapid spread of information online. The new protocol includes issuing a “nihil obstat,” meaning “no obstacle,” for unverified but harmless claims, allowing worship without formal recognition of the supernatural.

The Vatican’s Verdicts

Under the updated rules, bishops can make one of six decisions regarding supernatural claims. These range from outright rejection to prohibiting the worship associated with certain phenomena. To ensure consistency, bishops must seek approval from the Vatican before going public with any supernatural endorsements, with the Pope stepping in for exceptional cases.

This rigorous approach is not about stifling faith but about safeguarding it from the distortions of modern myth-making. The Vatican recognizes the powerful draw of pilgrimage sites, like Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal, where millions visit annually, drawn by tales of Marian apparitions and miracles recognized by the Church decades ago.

The Challenge of Modern Miracles

Not all supernatural claims make the cut. Take the 2016 incident in Italy, where a woman claimed regular visions of Jesus and Mary. It took eight years for the Church to investigate and dismiss the claims, which included contentious messages on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. This case underscores the challenges the Church faces in distinguishing genuine spiritual phenomena from well-crafted hoaxes.

The new guidelines aim to streamline this process, ensuring that any claim of a heavenly apparition or miraculous event receives the scrutiny it deserves before being accepted or rejected.

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Source: “Vatican tightens rules on supernatural phenomena” — BBC News

WTF Fun Fact 13739 – Course des Cafés

In March 2024, over 200 waiters and waitresses took part in the “Course des Cafés,” a peculiar race that tests the speed and poise of Paris’s finest servers. This event, a revival of a century-old tradition, unfolded over a 1.2-mile loop around City Hall.

They were clad in crisp white shirts, black trousers, and neatly tied aprons. The participants balanced a croissant, a full water glass, and an empty coffee cup on their trays. Their challenge? They had to speed-walk to the finish without running, spilling anything, or using both hands on the tray.

Balance, Speed, and the Course des Cafés

The objective of the race was clear: cross the finish line as quickly as possible while keeping the tray’s contents intact. Judges were strict, docking points for any spillage or mishandling of the tray. Despite the constraints, most competitors completed the course in under 20 minutes. The fastest times recorded were just over 13 minutes.

The winners were Samy Lamrous and Pauline Van Wymeersch. They claimed medals, a night in a luxury hotel, and tickets to the upcoming Olympic opening ceremony. Van Wymeersch, with 18 years in the service industry, expressed her deep connection to the profession despite the sacrifices it entails.

A Tribute to Parisian Café Culture

The “Course des Cafés” isn’t just about the spectacle. It’s a celebration of the deep-rooted café culture in Paris, where the modern restaurant concept originated. According to Maryann Tebben, a French food culture expert, this race underscores the pride that French servers take in their craft. Many spend decades perfecting their skills at the same establishments, embodying a tradition of excellence in service.

The café waiter has been a fixture in Paris since the 17th century. This race highlights their enduring role in the city’s vibrant social scene. The original race dates back to 1914. It was similarly celebrated, with participants showcasing their agility and finesse to the cheers of onlookers.

Revival of a Tradition in a Modern Metropolis

This year’s race comes at a pivotal time, as Paris prepares to host the “greenest” Olympic Games in history. The return of the “Course des Cafés” aligns with broader environmental goals, including initiatives to reduce plastic waste in the city. Eau de Paris, the event’s sponsor, has invested in sustainable practices, providing all race materials and promoting the use of tap water over single-use plastic bottles.

The race’s revival, after a 13-year hiatus due to budget constraints, is more than just a nod to the past. It’s a strategic move to rejuvenate Paris’s café spirit and showcase French innovation and hospitality ahead of the global spotlight the Olympics will bring.

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Source

WTF Fun Fact 13737 – Putting Animals on Trial

In medieval Europe, people put animals on trial, especially pigs. Yes, you read that right. The judicial system once believed animals could commit crimes. This bizarre practice may sound absurd today, but it was serious business back then.

Animals, like pigs, often roamed freely in villages. When one caused harm, people sought justice through the courts. Imagine a pig munching on someone’s crops or even injuring a child. The villagers would apprehend the offending animal and initiate legal proceedings. They treated these trials like any other criminal case. There were prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. The accused animal even had the right to a fair trial.

The Courtroom Drama: Animals in the Dock

During these trials, the courtroom was a spectacle. The animal stood in the dock, just like a human defendant. Lawyers would argue the case, presenting evidence and witnesses. They took their roles seriously, and the trial could draw a crowd of curious onlookers. People saw these trials as a way to maintain order and justice in their communities.

The charges against animals were surprisingly varied. Pigs often faced trial for damaging property or injuring people. But other animals, like cows, goats, and even insects, could also end up in court. Each case followed a similar process, with meticulous attention to legal procedures.

The outcome of these trials could be severe. If found guilty, the animal might face execution or some form of punishment. The authorities believed this would serve as a deterrent, maintaining order and preventing future incidents. It sounds harsh, but people genuinely believed in the efficacy of these measures.

The Peculiar Logic Behind Putting Animals on Trial

So, why did people put animals on trial? The logic was twofold: religious and legal. On the religious side, people believed animals, like humans, could sin. The church taught that animals, if possessed by evil spirits, could act against humans. Hence, trials served as a means to address this spiritual imbalance.

Legally, animals had a form of personhood. Medieval law extended some human rights to animals, holding them accountable for their actions. This perspective was strange but consistent with the period’s worldview. The legal system aimed to uphold societal norms and ensure justice, even if it meant trying a pig.

Interestingly, these trials also provided a form of catharsis for the community. By holding a public trial, people could vent their frustrations and seek closure. It was a way to address grievances and restore peace in the village.

Modern Reflections on Medieval Animal Trials

Today, the idea of putting animals on trial seems absurd and unjust. Our legal system recognizes animals as non-human entities, not capable of intent or guilt. We understand that animals act on instinct, not malice. This shift in perspective reflects broader changes in our understanding of justice and animal behavior.

So, the next time you see a pig, remember its ancestors might have faced a judge and jury. And be glad we’ve moved on from such peculiar practices. Justice today looks a lot different, and for good reason. We’ve learned that blaming animals for their actions doesn’t quite hold up in court.

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Source: “When Societies Put Animals on Trial” — JSTOR Daily