WTF Fun Fact 13005 – Board Games For The Brain

Fun fact: People who regularly play non-digital games (such as cards and board games) are more likely to score better on memory and thinking tests when they’re in their 70s.
If you’re interested in maintaining your mental acuity over time, board games for the brain may just help you out!


If you want to stay sharp in your 70s, games are a great way to exercise your brain. But digital games (such as video games and games on your phone) just won’t cut it. The link between mental acuity in later life and games seems to apply only to physical games like board games and playing cards.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh “tested more than 1000 people aged 70 for memory, problem solving, thinking speed and general thinking ability,” according to Science Daily (cited below). “Those who regularly played non-digital games scored better on memory and thinking tests in their 70s, the research found.”

The power of board games for the brain

Interestingly, the study also found that “People who increased game playing during their 70s were more likely to maintain certain thinking skills as they grew older.”

Scientists discovered the connection after testing their subjects every three years, until they reached age 79. They compared test results to how often people reported playing games like cards, chess, bingo, or crossword puzzles.

The team also factored in the scores from the subject’s intelligence tests when they were 11 years old and considered factors like lifestyle, economic status, and activity levels so that they could be reasonably sure that the games were the underlying factor for better memory test scores. (The participants were part of a group called the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. They were all born in 1936 and have been tracked in a variety of ways throughout their lives.)

They found that: “People who increased game playing in later years were found to have experienced less decline in thinking skills in their seventies — particularly in memory function and thinking speed.”

Protecting cognitive health

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said of the study: “Even though some people’s thinking skills can decline as we get older, this research is further evidence that it doesn’t have to be inevitable. The connection between playing board games and other non-digital games later in life and sharper thinking and memory skills adds to what we know about steps we can take to protect our cognitive health, including not drinking excess alcohol, being active and eating a healthy diet.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Playing board games may help protect thinking skills in old age” — Science Daily

WTF Fun Fact 13003 – The Sean O’Casey Bridge

Fun Fact: “Dublin’s Sean O’Casey Bridge is a pedestrian bridge over the River Liffey built to open up and allow ships to pass. But it was operated by a remote control that got lost in 2010. It was only in 2014, after building a new remote, that the bridge became operational again.”


Pro tip: If you build a bridge to help pedestrians cross a waterway and the bridge needs to open up in order to allow ships to pass, make sure you create more than one remote control to operate the bridge. Otherwise, a mobile phone-sized remote could get lost for four years. And that can make things very inconvenient for shipping through the waterway. Just ask Dublin – they know all about it.

The Sean O’Casey Bridge

Irish news site (cited below) reported in 2014 that the Sean O’Casey Bridge over the River Liffey in Dublin was once again operational after engineers were able to create a new remote to operate the bridge.

Describing the bridge, the news site said, “The design includes two 44-metre-long arms, capable of swinging open when required. That operation is controlled by a hand-held remote device — but, as reported last year — that device went missing some years ago, meaning openings were no longer possible.”

The loss presumable occurred when the bureaucrats running the bridge moved offices.

Re-opening the bridge

Years of budget issues prevented a proper engineering review necessary to solve the problem, according to the news site. But in 2014, someone found the money to reprogram a new device.

Financial Advisor to the Authority John Crawley told “Its not like a Sky box remote control.” The bridge remote required more than just an open and close button; it needed to be a secure system that no one could hack. Special engineers were required in order for it to be done right.

“An Irish-based firm carried out the reprogramming, and that aspect of the work cost around €1,800,” Crawley said.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Celtic Tiger bridge that wouldn’t open because of a lost remote control” —

WTF Fun Fact 12970 – Leland Melvin and the “Astro Dog” Photo

Astronaut Leland Melvin was told he could bring his family to his NASA photoshoot. So he did – they just happened to be his two rescue dogs (which he had to sneak into the facility). The result is an epic astronaut photo.

Who is Leland Melvin?

Leland Melvin was a NASA astronaut and current dog lover. He was a member of the 24th shuttle mission to the International Space Station which helped deliver and install the European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory.

But Leland Melvin’s got quite a history aside from that. He’s also the only person drafted into the National Football League to have flown in space!

Melvin has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and a Master’s degree in materials science engineering and played for the Detroit Lions. After his football career, he worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center “in the area of nondestructive testing creating optical fiber sensors for measuring damage in aerospace vehicles, resulting in publications in numerous scientific journals.”

He has also served as head of NASA Education and co-chair of the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) Education Task Force, the United States representative and chair of the International Space Education Board (ISEB), and won the NFL Players Association “Award of Excellence.”

Oh, and he’s even been a celebrity judge on Top Chef and appeared on an episode of Cesar Milian’s The Dog Whisperer with his dog Jake.

Sneaking dogs into NASA

According to the American Kennel Club: “The world got to know [Leland Melvin] as the ‘coolest astronaut in the galaxy’ through an iconic 2009 photo that, thanks to the web, became nearly as famous as Betty Grable’s World War II pinup poster. No one could forget Melvin’s official NASA portrait, known as the ‘Astro Dog’ shot.”

Blaring his stereo to drown out their barking and prepared with 100 milkbones to distract the pups so no one notices they were on site, Melvin drove onto the Johnson Space Center in Houston site for his official photo with his two dogs, Jake and Scout.

Dogs weren’t allowed on site, so he had to hide them all day, only letting them out when the photographer came in to start snapping photos.  WTF fun facts

Source: “About Leland Melvin” — Leland Melvin Official Website

WTF Fun Fact 12920 – Art Bell’s Vietnam Rescue

Art Bell was an American broadcaster who hosted a popular paranormal radio show called “Coast to Coast AM,” among others. But while people may know his voice, they likely don’t know about Art Bell’s Vietnam rescue mission while he was an Air Force medic during the Vietnam War.

Who is Art Bell?

Art Bell came from a military family and went on to serve in the US Air Force in the Vietnam War. It was there that took up a childhood passion for radio by operating a pirate station he indulged his childhood passion for radio by operating a pirate station that played anti-war music for American servicemen.

He was also briefly a DJ for an English-language radio station in Okinawa. And it was there that he set a Guinness World Record for broadcasting before moving back to the U.S. to become a paranormal DJ.

According to his NYTs obituary (cited below): “His ‘Coast to Coast’ show was syndicated and broadcast from 1989 to 2003, followed by episodic returns on satellite radio and online with a program called ‘Midnight in the Desert,’ which he canceled in 2015 after he said shots had been fired at his home.”

The obit also notes that “While some critics accused him of laying the foundation for right-wing conspiracists on talk radio, Mr. Bell’s politics were not easily pigeonholed. He described himself as a libertarian, but his passion was directed less at politicians or ideology than at debunking scientific doctrine and preaching apocalyptic prophecy.”

Eventually, he dropped the political angle in favor of paranormal topics.

Art Bell’s Vietnam rescue mission

While the proof is unclear and Art Bell’s Vietnam rescue mission is often referred to as something he simply told people about, it has come to be accepted (and it is likely provable if someone wanted to look into it) that he set his broadcasting marathon record in order to raise money for war orphans in Vietnam.

Over 100 children had been rendered orphans by the war with no one to care for them. Bell chartered a plane with the money and brought them to the U.S., where it’s said they were adopted by American families.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Art Bell, Radio Host Who Tuned In to the Dark Side, Dies at 72” — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 12831 – Sea Sponges Sneeze and Squeeze

It turns out sea sponges get full of mucus and other gunk (which we’re sure there’s a technical name for). And to get rid of this waste, they perform one of the most ancient ways to get rid of waste – that is, sea sponges sneeze to squeeze out the gunk,

Not exactly appetizing, but they aren’t really built in a way to do anything more complex.

Sea sponge sneezing

According to ScienceDaily (cited below), “A group of researchers found that sponges, one of the oldest multicellular organisms in existence, ‘sneeze’ to unclog their internal filter systems that they use to capture nutrients from the water.”

That’s not a super smooth move, but nearby creatures don’t mind – they eat the waste.

But this sneeze is nothing like a human sneeze – in fact, it takes about half an hour to complete.

“Our data suggest that sneezing is an adaptation that sponges evolved to keep themselves clean,” marine biologist Jasper de Goeij told the publication.

Blowing out the waste

Even though our sneezes aren’t the same, they do serve the same purpose – trying to get waste out of our bodies.

Here’s how it works for sponges:

“Sponges gather food for themselves by filtering out organic matter from the water. They draw in and eject water from different openings, and sometimes the sponges will suck in particles that are too big. ‘These are sponges; they can’t just walk to somewhere else when the water around them gets too dirty for them to handle,” said de Goeij.”

When sponge tissues contract, they push waste-containing mucus into the water surrounding them.

Munching on mucus

What the sponges “sneeze” out doesn’t simply all sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. Apparently, that mucus is a prime snack food for other creatures.

“We also observed fish and other animals feeding off of the sponge mucus as food,” says Niklas Kornder, a doctoral researcher in de Goeij’s research group said. “Some organic matter exists in the water surrounding the coral reef, but most of it is not concentrated enough for other animals to eat. Sponges transform this material into eatable mucus.”

While marine biologists believe most sponges sneeze, they’ve only witnessed it in the Caribbean tube sponge (Aplysina archeri) and an Indo-Pacific species of the genus Chelonaplysilla.

While the underwater snot-eating isn’t the most appetizing thing to think about, it does raise some questions for the researchers:

“In the videos, you can see that the mucus moves along defined paths on the surface of the sponge before accumulating. I have some hypotheses, but more analysis is needed to find out what is happening,” says Kornder.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Sponges ‘sneeze’ to dispose of waste” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 12793 – Angry People Overestimate Their Intelligence

Just because things like swearing are common among intelligent people doesn’t mean that extends to actual anger. In fact, angry people tend to overestimate their intelligence.

Anger and intelligence

Some negative emotions are more common among intelligent people, but anger seems to make folks a bit overconfident. A study showed that those who are quick to anger tend to think they’re smart (and the rest of the world needs to catch up).

The study

According to LiveScience (cited below): “To test this, the researchers surveyed more than 520 undergraduate students attending schools in Warsaw. The students answered survey questions to gauge how easily and how often they get angry. Then, the students took a survey to assess their own intelligence before taking an objective intelligence test.”

People in the study who were quick to anger had a higher opinion of their own cognitive abilities. Those who were more neurotic, on the other hand (who reacted to events with anxiety and distress), tended to see themselves as less intelligent.

In the end, it seems to come down to narcissism. Ill-tempered people tended to be more narcissistic and therefore think they’re smart. Of course, there’s no real, true test of intelligence, so we don’t know if that’s true or not; we just know that they seem to think they’re the real deal when it comes to brains.

Perceived intelligence

The study looked at anger as an overall personality trait, asking people to judge their own general tendencies towards anger. It didn’t try to test how angry they got in the moment.

It’s also important to note that “although the researchers found an association between the two traits, it’s unclear if there’s a cause and effect relationship between anger and overestimating intelligence. More research is needed to explore that link.”

The study was published in the journal Intelligence.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Angry People Think They’re Smarter Than They Are” — Live Science

WTF Fun Fact 12769 – The Marriage of Mickey and Minnie Mouse

Sometimes Disney love stories do come true. Just take the example of the real voice actors behind the classic characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor were married from 1986 until Allwine’s death in 2009.

Are Mickey and Minnie Mouse married?

According to the Disney Parks Blog (cited below), everyone wanted to know if the two cartoon characters were meant to be married.

“In the September 30, 1933 issue of Film Pictorial magazine, Walt Disney was asked if his two stars were married. He explained, ‘A lot of people have written to him asking this question because sometimes he appears to be married to her in his films and other times still courting her. What it really amounts to is that Minnie is, for screen purposes, his leading lady. If the story calls for a romantic courtship, then Minnie is the girl; but when the story requires a married couple, then they appear as man and wife.'”

So, it was a marriage of convenience for the cartoon characters at least.

The real Mickey and Minnie Mouse

Taylor was the official voice of Minnie Mouse from 1986 to 2019, while Alwine voiced Mickey from 1977 to 2009.

But Allwine and Taylor kept their real-life marriage on the down low.

“When we got married, we kind of kept it quiet, because everybody was saying, ‘Oh, Mickey and Minnie got married. ‘It wasn’t Mickey and Minnie; it was Wayne and Russi. We wanted to keep it about us and not about the characters.'”

Of course, the creators of Mickey and Minnie Mouse were husband and wife as well – Walt and Lilly Disney!

It just goes to show that the Disney tradition has been a family affair from the get-go. It’s pretty sweet when you think about it.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Disney Romance: Mickey and Minnie and Walt and Lilly” — Disney Parks Blog

WTF Fun Fact 12738 – Balance For Better Health

According to a new study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, your ability to balance on one foot may indicate better health and a longer life expectancy.

People in the study who were aged 51 to 75 and couldn’t balance on one foot for over 10 seconds were more likely to die within the next ten years.

According to CNN:

“While aging leads to a decline in physical fitness, muscle strength, and flexibility, balance tends to be reasonably well-preserved until a person’s 50s, when it starts to wane relatively rapidly, the researchers noted. Previous research has linked the inability to stand on one leg to a greater risk of falls and to cognitive decline.”

If you want to try it out, lift your foot and out the front of the foot behind your standing leg. Keep your arms at your side and look straight ahead (focusing on something in the distance often help maintain balance).

If at first you don’t succeed, that’s ok. You get three chances to get your body used to the task. You just can’t use anything to hang onto for support.

CNN explained the correlation between lifespan and balance in the study, citing one of the study’s authors:

“Being able to balance on one leg is important for older people for several reasons, and it is also reflective of wider fitness and health levels, said study author Dr. Claudio Gil Araújo at Exercise Medicine Clinic – CLINIMEX – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. ‘We regularly need … a one-legged posture, to move out of a car, to climb or to descend a step or stair and so on. To not have this ability or being afraid in doing so, it is likely related to loss of autonomy and, in consequence, less exercise and the snowball starts,’ he explained.”

So, how did researchers get to their conclusion? One in five study subjects failed the test (balance is tricky!). Then the subjects were followed for seven years. During that time, 7% of study subjects died. But what was significant is that the proportion of people who failed the balance test was much higher than those who passed.

That doesn’t mean you’re doomed if you have bad balance. It just means that it may be indicative of other issues that may affect your health and long life. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Wobbly on one leg? Ability to balance is linked to a longer life, study finds” — CNN

WTF Fun Fact 12737 – Ornamental Hermits

We know about garden gnomes, but what about ornamental hermits? They weren’t made of concrete or resin – they were real people.

In the 18th century, wealthy people with gardens didn’t want to be tacky, so no garden gnomes would do. The fancy way to decorate your garden was with an actual person paid to dress like a Druid, skip the showers, dress in tatty clothing, and wander around the estates.

Very rustic!

A British custom

This was mostly a practice in England, but there were ornamental hermits in Ireland and Scotland as well.

Atlas Obscura took a look at a book written about these interesting professionals by Gordon Campbell, a Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester. In a video explaining his monograph, titled The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome, he noted:

“Recruiting a hermit wasn’t always easy. Sometimes they were agricultural workers, and they were dressed in a costume, often in a druid’s costume. There was no agreement on how druids dressed, but in some cases they wore what we would call a dunce’s cap. It’s a most peculiar phenomenon, and understanding it is one of the reasons why I have written this book.”

History of hermits

In his book, Campbell mentions an ad from Sir William Gell’s A Tour in the Lakes Made in 1797, in which he states that ”the hermit is never to leave the place, or hold conversation with anyone for seven years during which he is neither to wash himself or cleanse himself in any way whatever, but is to let his hair and nails both on hands and feet, grow as long as nature will permit them.” 

Apparently, the ornamental hermit can be traced all the way back to the Roman emperor Hadrian. His villa at Tivoli had a small lake with a one-person structure for hermiting oneself away from the world (which, we imagine, would be a nice thing for an emperor to do every now and them). Pope Pius IV may have also built one for himself.

But the structures built for ornamental hermits were mostly for show and not necessarily for spiritual reflection.

How to be a hermit

The hermits were also instructed to be rather dour in order to be authentic. No shoes, no guests, and no smiling.

Atlas Obscura found a 1784 guide to the Hawkstone estate in Shropshire describing how to care for your ornamental hermit:

“You pull a bell, and gain admittance. The hermit is generally in a sitting posture, with a table before him, on which is a skull, the emblem of mortality, an hour-glass, a book and a pair of spectacles. The venerable bare-footed Father, whose name is Francis (if awake) always rises up at the approach of strangers. He seems about 90 years of age, yet has all his sense to admiration. He is tolerably conversant, and far from being unpolite.”

We can’t decide if it sounds like a dream job or a really depressing life.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Before the Garden Gnome, the Ornamental Hermit: A Real Person Paid to Dress like a Druid” — Atlas Obscura