14 Popular “Facts” That Are Completely Wrong

Curiosities
5 months ago

The broad flat-brimmed hat has become something of a trademark of every cowboy out there, but nobody actually wore them on the frontier. Cowboys, or, more accurately, cattle hands, were mostly illiterate men who did dirty jobs in equally dirty rags, and those hats were expensive. Like, really expensive.

Such men couldn’t afford them even if they wanted to — and they didn’t. Broad hats were impractical since they were heavy and got in the way. Most cowboys favored light bowler hats instead. Now imagine that legendary Clint Eastwood squint from beneath the brim of a bowler? Nah, let’s keep the broad ones in the westerns.

How come firefighters extinguish fires so fast? Is their water wetter or something? Well, actually, yes, it is. It’s a pretty recent addition, but firefighters add certain reagents to the water to reduce its surface tension. As a result, it becomes easier to spread and soak into objects.

The finding of a jar of perfectly edible thousand-year-old honey during archeological excavations gave birth to a myth that honey can never spoil. If you buy some honey, take off the lid, and store it in a humid environment, the treat will spoil quite soon. On the other hand, honey has antibacterial and antifungal properties, so no germs can live inside it if stored properly. With the lid closed and the conditions dry, it really won’t go bad in your entire lifetime.

You might’ve heard that the pink hue your strawberry Frappuccino has to it is achieved thanks to crushed bugs. And that was true until 2012: little critters called cochineal bugs were ground up to make red dye. This method is still used by many companies, but you won’t find the bugs in your coffee anymore. That’s... good.

You surely heard the story about Albert Einstein having been really bad at math in school. To all those who think they can match his genius even having bad grades, sorry: when he was told this story in 1935, Einstein just laughed and said he had mastered differential and integral calculus before he was 15. I just hope it wasn’t on the school curriculum back then. The myth was invented in the 1930s by Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a newspaper dealing in bizarre facts. The trouble is, it never cited any credible sources, so not a single claim about Einstein stood up to scrutiny.

When people say “the sixth sense” told them something, they mean something apart from the usual touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. But the phrase could be correct as well if we said “the eighth sense,” or even “the twenty-fifth sense.” Hey, I can always use 25 cents. There are several points of view on the actual number of our senses, with the largest one discussed being 53. Proprioception, for example, is the feeling of your body position. If you can close your eyes and touch your nose with a finger, congrats — you have it!

You probably heard a lot of stories about various things hiding on the dark side of the Moon. There’s just one catch here: there’s no such thing as the dark side of the Moon! Our natural satellite is tidally locked with the Earth, which means we’re always looking at the same side of it. But the Sun doesn’t follow the same rule, and it shines on the other side of the Moon just like on everything else.

And it’s only logical: solar eclipses wouldn’t be able to occur if the Sun didn’t bring light to the other side of the Moon. After all, it’s exactly the Moon blocking the Sun at those points. By the way, eclipses happen because the Sun is 400 times more distant from our planet than the Moon, but it’s also 400 times bigger. So the effect is full blocking of all light that only leaves that ominous ring.

If you happen to be a sushi lover, you might already know that the green paste they usually serve it with isn’t actual wasabi. It’s simple horseradish, dyed green to look exotic. The real thing has a milder taste, and it’s pretty expensive too. It’s easy to tell if it’s real or not too: if it isn’t made right in front of you, then it’s not wasabi.

Speaking of whales, and I was about to — the blue whale is often referred to as the largest living thing that ever, you know, lived. And it’s true that this gentle giant is enormous. But alas, it’s not even close to the real record-holder: honey mushroom that resides in the Blue Mountains of Oregon.

Looking at it from the surface, you won’t be able to tell that you’re staring at something massive. In reality, though, it’s a single fungus that covers the area of 1,350 soccer fields, most of it underground. What’s more, it’s not just old but pretty much ancient: its age is estimated at 2,400 years, but might be up to 8,650 years — no one can say for sure.

Still, the blue whale is not even second in the row: that honor goes to Pando, the trembling giant. It’s a quaking aspen in south-central Utah that looks like a huge forest, but is actually a single organism. All the trees in a 108-acre area grow from a single root system. But what’s even more astounding than its size is Pando’s weight: taken together, its roots and trees weigh about 6,000 tons, which makes it the heaviest organism in existence.

It might be okay to deflate your tires a little bit when you’re stuck in deep snow, but driving like that when you’re out of trouble is an unreasonable risk. Deflated tires decrease your level of control over the car, especially on an icy road, and you’re more likely to get stuck in a snow drift again.

So, instead of deliberately deflating your car’s tires in the winter, make sure you have chains or studs on them for better grip, and put some essentials into your trunk to help you out in case of trouble. Those include a shovel (duh), a tow rope, and a bag of sand, salt, or if you don’t have either — some kitty litter. Best if it’s mineral-based, of course, but even the silicone kind will do in a pinch.

Diamonds are very special gems and their cost is justified by their beauty and rarity, right? Not exactly. In fact, they’re not as rare as we’ve been all led to believe, and scientists have even found a way to create artificial diamonds, making their production rather easy. But they still cost a lot, though.

The secret lies in a really good marketing campaign that dates back a hundred years. The company that mined and sold diamonds successfully spread myths about these gems around the world. Not only they convinced everyone on the planet that diamonds are rare and thus have to be expensive, but also made everyone believe that only these rocks are synonymous with romance and engagement.

Despite bats being disoriented in the light of day, that’s not because they’re blind. Their eyesight is actually even better at nighttime than ours! They just see everything in the shades of black and white, so it’s hard for them to navigate when there’s so much light around. The myth about bats being blind probably arose from the fact that they use sonar to find their way.

I probably don’t need to tell you our planet isn’t round — its shape even has a special name for it: geoid. But saying it’s closer to elliptical or some other “proper” shape would be incorrect either. The Earth constantly spins at a mind-blowing speed, making it a bit elongated, true, but the tectonic plates moving inside it also affect its shape. Although that twisting and churning underneath is very slow (a couple of inches per year), tectonic movements make the Earth’s surface rise in some places and dip in others. Eventually, the planet looks more like a misshapen balloon than anything else.

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