World’s Strangest

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The Lancashire Witches 1612-2012

Four hundred years ago in northwest England, twenty people were arrested on witchcraft charges. We know so much about the Lancashire Witches because the trial was recorded in unique detail by the clerk of the court, Thomas Potts, who published his account soon afterwards as The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster. I [...]

Why Are Unidentified People Called John or Jane Doe?

From the courts to the morgue, if the government doesn’t know someone’s name or wants to withhold it, they give them one of these as a placeholder. Why? Toe tag image via Shutterstock The John Doe custom was born out of a strange and long since vanished British legal process called an action of ejectment. Under old English [...]

Which Came First: Orange the Color or Orange the Fruit?

Reader Erica wrote in with a question about oranges. Is the fruit named for its color, or is the color named for the fruit? Crayon and orange images via Shutterstock The citrus definitely got named first. The earliest recorded use of orange the fruit in English is from the 1300s and came to us from the Old French [...]

Why Don’t You Hear Someone’s Accent in a Song?

Reader Jared wrote in with this question: “Why do singers I perceive as having accents (i.e. Adele, Bono, etc.) have those accents when they talk, but not when they sing?” Microphone image via Shutterstock I hear what Jared is saying. Or, rather, I don’t hear it. While there are certainly exceptions, I’ve heard a thick accent on [...]

The Soviet Union Was Dissolved 20 Years Ago Today

Girl standing atop Soviet tank in Red Square during the Communist hard liners’ coup attempt in August 1991. © David Turnley/CORBIS Twenty years ago today, on December 8, 1991, a group of Soviet leaders got together in a house in snowy Belarus to declare the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The resulting treaty, [...]

Glory Day: Lancaster’s Brief Stint as Our Nation’s Capital

© Richard T. Nowitz/CORBIS If you’ve visited Lancaster, Penn., you probably remember it as a nice mid-sized city right in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country. What you might not know is that 234 years ago today, it became our young country’s third capital city, a position it held only briefly. Very, very briefly. Let’s take [...]

The Origins of Weird State Park Names (Part Three)

When you see these names, you tend to say to yourself, “Does that mean what it sounds like?” In most cases, no. Bong You’ve seen the sign, if not from the highway in Wisconsin, then on the internet. And you’ve heard the jokes about “recreation” involving either a water pipe for marijuana, or more recently a funnel [...]

The Quick 10: 10 Cool Corn Mazes

It has been a few years since I’ve made my way through a corn maze (a Maize Maze, to some), but these 10 have inspired me to seek one out this year. 1. The Milk Farm maze in Dixon, California, is the world’s biggest corn maze according to Guinness’ 2009 survey of the place, and [...]

A Brief History of Christmas Tree Lights

Like Bert and Ernie or pork and fennel, Christmas trees and lights were made for each other. But how did stringing up a few hundred twinkling lights on a pine tree become a normal part of Christmas merrymaking? Make Like a Tree and Get in the House Well, it all started with the pagans. The ritual use [...]

The Late Movies: Music From Unexpected Places

Tonight’s edition of the Late Movies looks at the unexpected. Below are a series of clips that feature music in fun and unexpected ways, from a kid who kills on the accordion to a single shot music video. Here’s an interesting social experiment. Want to make people use the stairs? Turn them into a piano! The Strange [...]