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!

 WTF fun facts

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.

 WTF fun facts

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.

 WTF fun facts

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

WTF Fun Fact 13309 – April’s Origins

What do you know about April’s origins? We are all aware that it is the fourth month of the Gregorian calendar, but it has a fascinating past and some distinctive characteristics.

April’s origins and meaning

One of the most interesting things about April is its name. According to, April is derived from the Latin word “aperire,” which means “to open.”

Since April is typically linked to the arrival of warmer weather and the start of the growing season, it is most likely referring to the opening of buds and flowers in the spring.

April was actually the second month of the year in ancient Rome. March was the first month on the Roman calendar.

In ancient Rome, the months were closely linked to the phases of the moon. April was particularly significant because it was the month when the moon was at its fullest. This made it an important time for religious and cultural celebrations.

Spring festivals

One of the most important Roman festivals in April was the Megalesia, held in honor of the goddess Cybele. This festival was a time for music, dance, and theater performances. It was also a time to honor the goddess’s fertility and abundance.

Another significant festival in April was the Parilia, which celebrated the founding of Rome. This festival was held on April 21st and was dedicated to the god Pales, who protected flocks and herds. It was a time for purification and renewal. It included the lighting of bonfires and the offering of sacrifices.

However, others believe that the name April comes from the Etruscan word “Apru,” which means “the month of Aphrodite.” Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty, and her Roman counterpart was Venus. The Greeks considered April a favorable time for weddings and other romantic activities. They believed it to be the month when the goddess of love was most powerful.

In addition to its association with the moon, the Romans associated April with the goddess Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. They held the festival of Veneralia on April 1st. On this day, women would undertake rituals on this day to worship the goddess and ask for her blessings.

Ancient April fools

Most believe that ancient Rome was the place where the custom of April Fools’ Day (or All Fools’ Day) originated. The Romans celebrated a day of practical pranks on March 25th in honor of the holiday of Hilaria. We believe that this celebration may be where the custom of pulling pranks on people on April 1st got its start.

We now associate April with numerous other events and observances. April is National Poetry Month in the US, a time to honor poetry’s beauty and impact. Also, April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to promote acceptance and understanding of people with autism.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The Mysterious Origins Of The Month Of April’s Name” —

WTF Fun Fact 13297 – Medieval Germany’s Marital Duels

Imagine fighting a duel with your spouse to “work things out.” Claims about what happened in the medieval period should be taken with a grain of salt when they come from non-scholars. Usually, someone cherry-picks a passage already translated (sometimes incorrectly) into English and runs with it. But the claim that marital duels existed in medieval Germany may be true – if embellished a bit.

The truth about medieval German marital duels

In 1985, religious studies scholar Allison Coudert published a paper about the duels that may have taken place between husbands and wives. The paper explores depictions that were found of marital duels between husbands and wives in the fifteenth- and sixteenth centuries. These pictures show combats where couples use sticks, stones, swords, and other weapons.

Coudert argues that, despite the illustrations, there is no record of such duels taking place after 1200. (Which presumably means that before 1200, you could challenge your spouse to a duel.) It is suggested that the images were copied from earlier manuscripts and included in treatises to provide a comprehensive historical overview of dueling practices.

Of course, the idea of medieval couples hurling stones at each other and hitting each other with sticks is the kind of thing that makes headlines on viral news sites. But it wasn’t so straightforward (and you need to know medieval German – as Coudert apparently does) to get to the bottom of things.

Justifying violence

The paper goes on to explain that, by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, societal, religious, and legal norms were against wives engaging in physical confrontations with their husbands. The duels were over – but wife-beating was apparently still ok.

Customary laws made it a crime for husbands to allow themselves to be beaten by their wives. In contrast, wife-beating was legal, and in some cases, encouraged. This brutal treatment was justified based on both scripture and law. Catholic and Protestant theologians agreed on the subordination of women. This belief even influenced opinions about sexual positions, with intercourse with the man on top and the woman below considered “natural.”

Changes in women’s status and position during the 12th century could explain the absence of marital duels after 1200. Before this time, women may have battled their husbands. The importance of their economic and administrative roles in the household was understood and defended.

However, by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the law, religion, and custom made such duels unthinkable. The depiction of these duels in illustrations may be a reflection of an earlier time.

So while it appears the duels are not a myth, most people are basing their stories on the wrong evidence.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Judicial Duels Between Husbands and Wives” — Notes in the History of Art via JSTOR

WTF Fun Fact 13282 – The Ides of March

March 15th is known as the Ides of March. It’s a day that has become synonymous with betrayal and tragedy.

What is the Ides of March, and why is it infamous?

The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to March 15th.

After changing their calendar system multiple times, the ancient Romans eventually divided into three parts:

– The Kalends (the 1st day of all months).
– The Nones (the 7th of March, May, July, and October, and the 5th of other months).
– The Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months).

Today, we associate the Ides of March with Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE. Interestingly, they were also a day set aside for settling debts in ancient Rome.

On that day, a group of senators, including Brutus and Cassius, stabbed Caesar 23 times. He died on the steps of the Roman Senate.

The senators believed he had become too powerful and, as a result, posed a threat to Roman Republican rule. One of the “offenses” Casear committed was to further change the calendar. While he theoretically redesigned it to match up better with the seasons and moon cycles, it also benefitted him politically.

Why choose March 15th?

According to JSTOR Daily (cited below, and which provides more popularized accounts of academic articles):

“While it’s commonly believed that the date of Caesar’s assassination was one chosen based on expediency and proximity—he would be leaving three days later for a potentially long military campaign against Parthia, and the Senate would meet on the Ides, thus putting Caesar within reach of the conspirators—one scholar argues that the date was also one that held symbolic meaning for Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins, and that the calendar reform may have been a “last straw” for them, symbolizing the rejection of the sacred traditions of Rome, the mos maiorum, not unlike if a US president were to sit during the National Anthem.”

What is the legacy of March 15th, 44 BCE?

Julius Caesar’s assassination was certainly a turning point for Rome and changed its political future. It may remind us that even the most powerful leaders are not invincible. Or that ambition can lead to tragic outcomes. It has long served as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power and the consequences of betraying one’s ideals.

You likely know that William Shakespeare immortalized the Ides in his play “Julius Caesar.” It famously warns us to “beware the Ides of March” and the danger they represent.

Of course, depending on how you look at it, the Ides of March can also represent the resilience of the human spirit. After all, despite the tragedy of Caesar’s assassination, Rome continued to grow.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Beware the Ides of March. (But Why?)” — JSTOR Daily

WTF Fun Fact 13274 – The Ubiquitous AOL CDs

From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, America Online (AOL) CDs were a ubiquitous object in households across the country. These CDs were inescapable, as they seemed to arrive in the mail on a regular basis, and were even stocked in stores. At one point in the 1990s, around half of all CDs produced in the world were AOL CDs. For those too young to remember, this was many people’s only way to access the internet.

The history of AOL CDs

AOL, or America Online, was a pioneer of the internet in its early days. As one of the first internet service providers, it offered dial-up access to the World Wide Web through its proprietary software, which was distributed on CDs. Lots and lots of them.

AOL packaged the CDs in bright, attention-grabbing sleeves. They often came with enticing offers for free internet trials, exclusive content, and more.

The impact of AOL CDs on marketing and internet access was far-reaching. By the late 1990s, AOL began producing more than one million CDs per day, a testament to their effectiveness as a sales and marketing tool.

According to The Atlantic (cited below), AOL’s former chief marketing officer Jan Brandt told TechCrunch that the company spent over $300 million luring in customers with CD. “At one point, 50% of the CD’s produced worldwide had an AOL logo on it. We were logging in new subscribers at the rate of one every six seconds,” he said.

Copycats and landfills

These discs provide millions of Americans with access to the internet, but they were also a crucial instrument in the early days of online marketing. Companies could bundle their software, promotions, and products with the discs, providing them with unprecedented exposure to a growing audience.

Many companies followed suit, with other internet service providers conducting similar campaigns. Despite their success, AOL CDs eventually fell out of favor as the internet landscape evolved.

As broadband access became more widespread, the need for the inexpensive access provided by AOL diminished.

These compact discs were undeniably effective. But they were also an environmental nightmare since people discarded these CDs in landfills once they became obsolete.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “How Much Did All of Those AOL CDs Cost?” — The Atlantic