World’s Strangest

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Why Do Stars Twinkle?

When you look up at the night sky, almost every star appears to fluctuate rapidly in brightness, or blink in and out, or shift positions slightly. The little stars are twinkling, twinkling (the scientific term is scintillation or astronomical scintillation), but why? There used to be two theories about twinkling. One held that Earth’s atmosphere is [...]

Why Is Snow White?

Snow is just a bunch of ice crystals getting together, hanging out and having fun. So why is snow white when ice has no color? First things first, why are different things different colors in the first pla­ce? Visible light is made up of different wavelengths of light—from the shorter, violet ones to the longer, red [...]

The Most Popular Stories of 2009: #20 to #14

This week, we’ll be counting down the year’s most-read mentalfloss.com stories. I know the suspense is killing you, but we’ll start with #20. 20. Strange Geographies: The Mojave Desert’s Airplane Graveyard by Ransom Riggs Out in the Mojave Desert, two hours from anywhere, you can see the silhouettes of a hundred parked jetliners. A mean-looking perimeter fence keeps [...]

Why Are Flags Flown at Half-Staff in Times of Mourning?

On Friday, President Obama ordered that all U.S flags should be flown at half-staff until Veterans’ Day to honor the victims of the Fort Hood massacre. Flying a flag at half-staff has become a well-recognized symbol of national grieving, but where did this tradition originate, and how does the decision to lower the flag work? How [...]

5 Country Stars Who Got Fried in the Food Business

By Bill DeMain 1. Minnie Pearl’s Fried Chicken In 1967, Nashville attorney John Jay Hooker convinced Grand Ole Opry comedienne Minnie Pearl that she could sell more drumsticks than Colonel Sanders. After all, Minnie Pearl seemed like the sort of lady who’d have a good family recipe for fried chicken. Unfortunately, she didn’t. But that didn’t stop [...]

The Medical Credentials of 7 Famous Doctors

Slate’s recent shocking revelations about rapper-turned-psychologist Dr. Roxanne effectively knocked the wind out of one of this year’s feel-good stories. And while we never really pictured, say, Dr. J performing major surgery, the piece did make us wonder about the credentials of some other famous “doctors.” 1. Dr. Roxanne Shanté Lolita Shanté Gooden was just 14 [...]

Do Blind People See Things in Their Dreams?

A question from reader Josiah: “Do blind people see when they dream? I think there are two sides to the question, dealing with people who were born blind, and those who used to be able to see.” Whether visual imagery is present in the dreams of the blind has been pondered by scientists since the early 19th [...]

How Does Scratching Relieve an Itch?

If you have an itch, you scratch it. Scratch and itch; they go together like peas and carrots and everyone—humans, apes, dogs and cats—knows it. What we didn’t understand for a very long time was the physiological connection between the two—why a good scratch relieves a bad itch. A study by a group of neuroscientists at [...]