WTF Fun Fact 13290 – The Spring Equinox At Chichen Itza

In March, visitors flock to Mexico to celebrate the spring equinox at Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It was once a major center of the Mayan civilization and is home to some of the most iconic Mayan ruins in the world. Among these ruins is the Kukulcan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo, which is famous for its alignment with the spring and fall equinoxes.

Celebrating the spring equinox at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza was built by the Mayan civilization over the course of several centuries. Construction started in the 7th century CE. The site contains many impressive structures, including pyramids, temples, ball courts, and an observatory. But the most famous is the Kukulcan Pyramid.

On the day of the spring equinox each year, the pyramid is known for a visual effect known as the “serpent of light.” As the sun rises, the pyramid casts a shadow that appears to be a serpent slithering down the steps. This phenomenon is caused by the angle of the sun and the pyramid’s unique design, which incorporates 365 steps, one for each day of the year.

What’s amazing about the structure is that the architects knew astronomy so well that they could build something so large that also has such a dramatic effect at a precise moment centuries later.

The Serpent of Light

The serpent of light is a significant event for the Mayan people. They view it as a symbol of the cycle of life and death, and the renewing power of the sun. Many visitors flock to Chichen Itza on the day of the spring equinox to witness this event.

In addition to the pyramid, Chichen Itza is home to many other fascinating ruins. Among them are the Temple of the Warriors, the Great Ball Court, and the Observatory. Each of these structures has its own unique history and significance in Mayan culture.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The descent of the serpent in the Chichen Itza Equinox” — Mayan Peninsula

WTF Fun Fact 13266 – The New York Knicks Colors

The New York Knicks’ colors are blue and orange. They were chosen because they are two of the official colors of New York City (white is the third). The Knicks adopted the colors in 1946, their inaugural season in the Basketball Association of America (BAA).

Why are the New York Knicks’ colors blue and orange?

The New York Knicks were founded on June 6, 1946 as one of the original members of the Basketball Association of America (BAA), which later merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949. The Knicks played their first game on November 1, 1946, defeating the Toronto Huskies 68-66.

According to the official NYC website, the colors were chosen to represent the city’s Dutch heritage. New York City was originally founded by the Dutch as New Amsterdam in 1625.

The blue and white colors come from the coat of arms of the Dutch West India Company, which played a major role in the early history of New York. The orange color represents the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau, which ruled the Netherlands at the time of the city’s founding.

The flag was officially adopted in 1915 and has remained unchanged since then. While the flag is not widely used in daily life, it is a symbol of the city’s history and culture, and is often flown at official events and ceremonies.

Why are they called the Knicks?

The Knickerbockers’ name also goes back to Dutch settlers. Those men rolled their pants just below the knees. This style of pants was eventually called Knickerbockers (or knickers). 

As for why the team is called the Knickerbockers instead of something else is a bit of a mystery. However, the story goes that founding father Ned Irish chose the name out of a hat.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “A History of Blue in New York City and its Sports Teams” — NYCFC

WTF Fun Fact 13228 – The Lupercalia

Each year the ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia on February 15th. The Romans originally called the festival Februa, and it acted as a purification ritual for the city.

Why did Romans celebrate Lupercalia?

The Romans associated Lupercalia with fertility, renewal, and revelry. But they also conducted it under the eye of a group of priests called Luperci.

The origins of the Lupercalia festival aren’t entirely clear. But they may have something to do with the myth of the she-wolf that nursed the abandoned brothers Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome). The Romans also associated the festival with the god of fertility, Faunus.

In Rome, March was the start of the New Year

According to Encyclopedia Britannica (cited below):

“Each Lupercalia began with the sacrifice by the Luperci of goats and a dog, after which two of the Luperci were led to the altar, their foreheads were touched with a bloody knife, and the blood was wiped off with wool dipped in milk; the ritual required that the two young men laugh.

The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the sacrificial animals and ran in two bands around the Palatine hill, striking with the thongs at any woman who came near them. A blow from the thong was supposed to render a woman fertile.”

The Romans performed the sacrifice at the cave where the she-wolf supposedly suckled the founders Romulus and Remus.

The end of the festival

In 494 CE, Pope Gelasius I banned the Lupercalia because it was a pagan festival.

Some believe he tried to replace it with the Church’s Feast of the Purification (Candlemas), on February 2nd. But that holiday was likely established earlier.

Many people try to make the connection between Lupercalia and St. Valentine’s Day on February 14th. And while the holiday may have picked up some minor influences from the Lupercalia, the creation of that holiday came much later.

Regardless, Romans likely celebrated the Lupercalia for close to 1200 years. (However, academic Agnes Kirsopp Michaels has made the case that the festival only goes back to the 5th century B.C.)  WTF fun facts

Source: “Lupercalia” — Encyclopedia Britannica

WTF Fun Fact 13223 – The Benefits of Reading Physical Books

Reading is generally good for you, no matter how you do it (unless you’re falling down a rabbithole of conspiracy theories). And your body likes reading in any form. Still, research shows that the benefits of reading physical books is higher than reading on a screen.

What are the benefits of reading physical books?

Reading physical books has numerous benefits. For starters, it helps improve concentration and information retention. Physical books require more focus and concentration than digital books, as there are fewer distractions. This helps to improve memory retention and recall, especially for complex information.

Research suggests that reading online results in lower understanding and less critical reflection. That can even be the case when parents read to children from an ebook. But that’s largely because screens don’t help them enhance elements of the story that would make a book more engaging.

Learning is just better when it’s done on paper.

Physical books are also better for eye health. Digital screens emit blue light, which has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns and cause eye strain.

A paper book in your hands also helps promote relaxation (though we’ve certainly felt the relaxation from reading an ebook!). But it turns out physical books can help to reduce stress and anxiety. The act of holding a book and turning its pages has a calming effect, and the absence of screens and digital distractions can provide a sense of peace.

Paper books also encourage us to unplug. They provide a break from technology and encourage people to unplug and disconnect from their screens. This is especially important in today’s digital world, where people are constantly bombarded with information and distractions.

Love building a library

While ebooks can be very convenient for travel or people with small apartments who don’t have places to store books, it turns out that collecting physical books can be a source of pride and personal fulfillment. A personal library of physical books is a tangible representation of one’s interests and reading history, which can be enjoyed and shared with others. It makes people feel good about their reading habits.

Believe it or not, physical books are more environmentally friendly in some ways. They do not require any batteries, electricity, or other power sources. They are also made from natural materials, such as paper, making them a more sustainable option than digital books, which rely on electronic devices that contribute to electronic waste.

The benefits of reading physical books also help independent bookstores. And purchasing physical books from independent bookstores supports local communities and small businesses, helping to preserve the cultural heritage of local neighborhoods.

For the love of books

If you love books, you’re not alone. People still prefer and buy more physical books than ebooks. And considering how many devices we all own, that’s pretty impressive.

In an era where convenience rules, there’s still something so compelling about holding a physical book that ebooks have never been able to take the lion’s share of the book market.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Reading on-screen vs reading in print: What’s the difference for learning?” — National Library of New Zealand

WTF Fun Fact 13214 – Understanding the Birthday Paradox

Sometimes, an event is more likely to occur than we think. For example, if you survey a random group of 23 people, you have a 50–50 chance of finding someone with the same birthday as you. Understanding the Birthday Paradox is all about mathematical probability.

What’s the key to understanding the Birthday Paradox?

Understanding the Birthday Paradox is important to understanding the limits of our intuition.

The Birthday Paradox is a statistical phenomenon that states that in a group of just 23 people, there’s a 50-50 chance that two of them will have the same birthday. This likely seems counterintuitive. The probability of any two people having the same birthday seems much lower, right?

But as the number of people in a group increases, the probability of two people having the same birthday also increases. (That part makes sense.)

To understand the Birthday Paradox, we have to consider the probability of two people not having the same birthday.

If the first person in a group has a birthday on any day of the year, the probability that the second person does not have the same birthday is 364/365, or 0.9973. The probability that the third person does not have the same birthday as the first two people is 363/365, and so on.

As the number of people in the group increases, the probability of any two people not having the same birthday decreases.

How does the math work on this?

Ok, let’s say we have a group of 23 people. The probability that any two people do not have the same birthday is (364/365)^(23*22/2) = 0.4927. That means that there is a 50.73% chance that two people in the group will have the same birthday.

In a group of 30 people, the probability increases to 0.7037. In that case, there is a 29.63% chance that two people will have the same birthday.

A simpler way to think about the Birthday Paradox is to think about it as a game of matching pairs. If you have a deck of cards with 365 cards and you randomly draw 23 cards, the probability of matching pairs is 50.73%. The more cards you draw, the higher the chance of matching pairs.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Probability and the Birthday Paradox” — Scientific American

WTF Fun Fact 13139 – Asia Is Bigger Than the Moon

In terms of surface area, Asia is bigger than the moon.

How on Earth is Asia bigger than the moon?

First, it’s useful to know that the moon is only 27% the size of the Earth. Since Asia is the biggest continent on Earth, it’s not a huge surprise that it might rival the size of the moon in terms of surface area.

The surface Asia’s surface area is 44.5 million square kilometers (4.6 million square miles) while the moon’s is 37.8 million square kilometers (17.2 million square miles).

Moon stats

While the moon is the brightest object in the night sky, it’s still only about a quarter of the size of our planet.

Here are some other interesting moon stats, according to (cited below):

  • The moon’s mean radius is 1,079.6 miles.
  • Its mean diameter is 2,159.2 miles.
  • The moon is less than a third the width of the Earth.
  • The moon’s equatorial circumference is 6,783.5 miles (10,917 km).
  • The Earth’s moon is the fifth largest moon in our solar system.

The moon appears so enormous because it is so close to the Earth. It’s our closest celestial body at around 238,855 miles away.

To put it in some very random perspective, “If Earth were the size of a nickel, the moon would be about as big as a coffee bean,” according to NASA.

It’s pretty wild to think about the size of objects in our solar system. Often, their measurements don’t mean much to us unless they’re compared to something we can more easily visualize. Still, the fact that Asia is bigger than the moon (in terms of surface area) is pretty mind-blowing.  WTF fun facts

Source: “How big is the moon?” —

WTF Fun Fact 13075 – Gungywamp

Gungywamp is a bit of a mystery. But that’s true of nearly all archaeological sites. They don’t exactly come with a guide map explaining what everything is. But the most surprising thing about this over 4000-year-old set of stone circles is that they’re in Groton, Connecticut. Of course, there were Native peoples all over the continent, but the sites changes what anyone previously knew about them.

What is Gungywamp?

The site has artifacts dating from 2000-770 BCE. In and around the 100-acre site, you’ll find structures from both Native Americans and the colonists. In other words, people have lived here for a long time.

But perhaps one of the coolest remnants left behind is a stone “calendar” cellar which has a tiny window that naturally illuminates it from the outside during the equinoxes. It’s mixed in with lots of other stone cellars that some archaeologists think are simply root cellars (where vegetables are stored in the cold seasons).

All the chambers/cellars seem to contain petroglyphs (prehistoric rock carvings). North of those, you’ll also find double stone circles made of large quarried stone. There are 21 of them laid end to end.

But what does it all mean?

Who built the site?

The most likely explanation is that this is a prehistoric Native American site that was later used by colonists as well. But the nature of the stone circles is reminiscent of medieval Irish structures. And that’s controversial because it would suggest that Europeans (perhaps Irish monks known as Caldees) may have made their way to North America long before Columbus. This is considered a fringe theory since there is no other evidence, linguistic or archaeological that would support it.

If you’re into fringe theories, there are also those who believe some of it was built by aliens. They use the occasional spikes in electromagnetic energy in the area caused by the quartz, granite, and magnetite rocks to forward a theory that it’s some sort of alien energy vortex.

Arrowheads, pottery fragments, and other artifacts make it certain that the site was also used by Native Americans and colonists. But was there another group of people who built some of the stranger aspects of the site?

It’s fair to argue that Native Americans that were wiped out built the mysterious structures. People clearly lived there for thousands of years, making it hard to tell where one group’s artifacts begin and end in the timeline.

There was once a Gungywamp Society that investigated the site, but they have now disbanded.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Gungywamp – Groton, Connecticut” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13041 – Oldest Mummy Ever Found

You might be surprised to know that the oldest mummy ever found does not come from Egypt. The practice of mummification likely began in Chile.

The first mummies

The Chinchorro people settled in the bays of the Atacama Desert of present-day Chile around 7,000 BCE. All evidence points to these people developing a mummification technique around 5000 BCE. That’s two millennia before the the first ancient Egyptian mummies.

According to CNN (cited below), the oldest mummies ever found are currently kept the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum in the village of San Miguel de Azapa. The museum has 300 specimens but only displays around 10% of the collection to the public.

“It’s a very sacred collection because the majority of the items are related to the ceremony of death,” Mariela Santos, the museum curator and conservationist told CNN.

The first mummies

In Chile, the first mummies were babies and fetuses. And the area developed at least five separate mummification processes. However, 2 (black and red mummies) are the most common.

“Making the black mummies involved taking the dead person’s body completely apart, treating it and then reassembling it, skin and all. The red ones were created by making small incisions to remove internal organs and then drying the body cavity. Both were typically stuffed with sticks and reeds (to fill out the forms), adorned with wigs, and masked with clay over the faces — the former painted in manganese and the latter in ochre.”

Recognition for the site of the oldest mummy ever found

Chile’s Chinchorro sites were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2021. This makes it more popular with tourists and gives the area more resources to preserve their mummies. It should also put Chile on the map as far as the history of mummification is concerned. However, an influx of tourists can also hurt local communities.

Athropologist Bernardo Arriaza has studied the Chinchorro mummies and is an advocate for the site getting the attention it deserves.

“What we’re trying to show is that we not only have the oldest evidence of intentional mummification, but it was done by pre-ceramic hunter-gatherer people in a pristine environment that remains today,” he told CNN.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Surprise! The world’s oldest mummies are not in Egypt” — CNN

WTF Fun Fact 13014 – Movies Don’t Really Burn Calories

A popular claim that watching scary movies burns as many calories as a walk re-circulates each year around during spooky season. But in reality, movies don’t really burn calories. The claim wasn’t the results of a rigorous study and was misleading. In fact, it was only made for publicity purposes.

What’s the claim about movies burning calories

From clickbait site to serious websites like The Guardian, it’s common to the headline once a year that watching movies like The Shining burn calories because they get your heart racing. And while that’s not false, the claim that watching a scary movie is somehow equivalent or better to exercise is untrue.

According to The Guardian’s piece the year the study came out:

“Those who watched a 90-minute horror film were likely to burn up to 113 calories – the same sort of figure as a half-hour walk. Some movies were more effective than others, however: of the 10 films studied, the top calorie-burners were the classic Stanley Kubrick chiller The Shining (184 calories), Jaws (161 calories) and The Exorcist (158 calories).”

For starters, sitting and doing nothing for 90 minutes can burn anywhere from 60 to 130 calories, depending on the person. You get those points for just existing. So go ahead and watch Steel Magnolias because scaring yourself silly isn’t going to help you lose weight.

The “study” is not really a study

What’s even more problematic is that while there is an academic behind the claims (and metabolism measurements):

  1. He didn’t set out to perform a rigorous scientific study.
  2. The data was never published in a scientific journal (which is important because that requires a study to be worthwhile, constructed correctly, and subjects it to peer review).
  3. The results are unimpressive at best (and genuinely misleading at worst).

The source of the info is Dr. Richard Mackenzie, listed as “senior lecturer and specialist in cell metabolism and physiology at the University of Westminster in London” at the time. He is cited as saying (via university press release, not a journal study) that:

While the scientists did measure heart rate, oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output, the study involved just 10 people and was commissioned by the movie rental firm Lovefilm (now owned by Amazon).

Mackenzie noted that:

“As the pulse quickens and blood pumps around the body faster, the body experiences a surge in adrenaline. It is this release of fast-acting adrenaline, produced during short bursts of intense stress (or in this case, brought on by fear), which is known to lower the appetite, increase the basal metabolic rate and ultimately burn a higher level of calories.”

The top 5 movies he asked people to watch (with calories burned during viewing) were:

1. The Shining: 184 calories
2. Jaws: 161 calories
3. The Exorcist: 158 calories
4. Alien: 152 calories
5. Saw: 133 calories

No, movies don’t burn calories in any helpful way

When Snopes (cited below) checked up on the even more bombastic claim people had made after hearing about the study (that watching horror movies could help reduce obesity), the noted: “The study was neither peer-reviewed nor published (nor, apparently, meant to be taken seriously). No follow-up studies replicating its findings, and people who wish to lose weight are probably better advised to get some exercise.”

Snopes then went on to point out the obscenely small sample size, the lack of replication of the study (mandatory of a study to actually make its way towards being considered scientific), and the failure to follow-up with subjects’ actual weight loss.

But the most important point is that even if everything had been done properly, the results aren’t impressive.

The average length of a feature film is around 90 minutes, during which the average person sitting on their butts and doing nothing burns 60 – 130 calories. If you stand, you might burn 100 – 200 calories, more than the 184 that people watching The Shining burned. The person watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the “study” only burned 107 calories – so we’re pretty skeptical of all of these measurements at this point.

The best we can say is that maybe some people burn a couple of extra calories watching scary movies that they would if they were just watching a blank wall. In other words, get your exercise if you want to burn calories in a meaningful way.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Does Watching Horror Movies Reduce Risk of Obesity?” — Snopes