For some time, I’ve been collecting my favourite Wikipedia articles – presented here for your reading pleasure. I found some of these through @depthsofwikipedia, Aella, and various links aggregators, but I don’t remember which articles came from where.


In killing both the patient and two other employees at the hospital, Robert Liston performed “the only known surgery in history with a 300 percent mortality rate”.

Guy Standing, sitting. 

Carl Sagan was involved in this plan to nuke the moon for unclear reasons, including “a possible boosting of domestic morale”.

The American Medical Association was founded in response to, and country music was popularised by, John Romulus Brinkley’s radio programme promoting the medicinal benefits of goat testicles.

The astronomer Tycho Brahe lost his nose in a duel and had it replaced with a copper prosthetic. During a house party, his pet elk got so drunk it fell down the stairs.

In the first of a long series of power moves, Lyndon B Johnson asked his wife to marry him on their first date. He may also have cheated on her for twenty years, though.

The film Catch Me if You Can is about the elaborate frauds of Frank Abagnale, but his claims to be a fraud were themselves fraudulent.  

The key to Irish electoral success is to legally change your name to summarise your main policy positions.

In the 1850s and 1860s, the city of Chicago was raised six feet off the ground using an elaborate system of jackscrews. The businesses on top continued operating normally while this was happening.

In Burkina Faso, two members of the jazz band Tout-à-Coup both became leaders of the country, with one overthrowing the other in a 1987 coup. The fact that the band name contained the word ‘coup’ was pure coincidence.

One of the most important incidents in the history of world trade was when two men dressed as monks smuggled silkworm eggs in their canes from China to the Byzantium Empire. These eggs became the basis of the Byzantine economy and broke the Chinese silk monopoly.

There is still no convincing explanation for the spontaneous outbreaks of involuntary dancing from the 14th to the 17th centuries.

The vending machine was invented two thousand years ago.

The ancient Greeks had a primitive railroad for moving ships.

The ‘mechanical Turk’ was a chess-playing automaton that toured around Europe and the Americas before it was exposed that it was just a midget in a box.

The Trivers-Willard hypothesis explains why the sex balance is 50/50 in almost every sexually reproducing species, even when males have minimal parental involvement. 

Acoustic Kitty: a plan by the CIA to spy on the Soviets using cats wearing microphones who would wander into embassies.

In a war between the Australian military and the emus, the emus won.

The United States and Canada almost went to war over a pig: “Despite being referred to as a “war” there were no causalities on either side, aside from the pig.”

The U.S. military remotely disabled nuclear facilities in Iran with a computer virus

According to Josephus, Jesus Christ had a unibrow.

Michael Lotito: the man who literally ate an entire plane

Sports in the forerunner to the modern Olympic games included a sport called ‘Old Women’s Race’, where contestants would compete for a pound of tea. I still don’t know what this means.

‘Town planning’ was an Olympic sport until 1948.

The winner of the men’s marathon in the 1904 Olympics drove to the finish line in a car.

The ill-fated World Sauna Championships.  

Adolf Hitler is a regional politician in Namibia. He is not to be confused with Dr. Gay Hitler, a dentist from Ohio.

40 million people in China live in caves.

Dahala Khagrabri is a piece of land which was, until 2015, a piece of India within Bangladesh within India within Bangladesh. This made it the only third-order enclave in the world.

For over 230 yeras, the Pitcairn Islands have been inhabited entirely be descendents from the shipwrecked crew of the HMS Bounty and their consorts. 

Cyberpunk icon: the Kowloon Walled City. 

Afghanistan has had 19 different flags since it gained independence in 1919, and several more before that. At various points, the flag of Afghanistan has been completely black, completely white, and (until 2021) itself contained a smaller version of the flag of Afghanistan.

Literally at no point did the Confederacy use the flag commonly referred to as the ‘confederate flag’.

The strange world of Kyrgyz bride kidnappings.

The Great Dublin Whiskey Fire: zero fire-related deaths, 13 deaths from people drinking all the free booze.

In Thailand, the current year is 2566.

For a few years after the Revolution, France had decimal time: 10 hours, each divided into 100 minutes, each consisting of 100 seconds.

Plymouth is the capital of the British overseas territory of Montserrat, despite having a population of zero.

Big Hole.

Garden hermits lived in grottoes on the estates of aristocrats in the 18th century, where they could be consulted for advice or “viewed for entertainment”.

The Miracle of 1511: When all Belgians came together to protest Charles V using pornographic snowmen

“In Ohio folklore, the Loveland frog is a legendary humanoid frog.”

California was represented on many maps as an island into the 18th century, despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

In 1859, a solar flare disabled most of the world’s telegraph system. We are not prepared if it ever happens again! 

Australian megafauna.

The people who maintain the Cerne Abbas Giant have a surprisingly good sense of humour

It’s false that chickens can survive for several minutes after having their head cut off. They can survive for a year and a half

The Romanian equivalent of the idiom ‘apples and oranges’ is “like grandmothers and machine guns.”

Prisencolinensinainciuosol: a song whose lyrics are gibberish meant to sound like how English sounds to people who don’t speak it.

‘There’s No One as Irish as Barack O’Bama’ was a minor folk hit in 2008 celebrating Barack Obama’s (incredibly tenuous) Irish ancestry.

Events mentioned in Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.

The Room is widely considered to be the worst film ever made, but Troll 2 gives it a run for its money. Not only is Troll 2 not a sequel to the film Troll, it is not a sequel to anything; the film does not even contain any trolls.

In 1998, the former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev starred in a TV advert for Pizza Hut.

Turn-On was a sketch comedy series so awful that it was cancelled midway through showing its only episode.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a ladder which, since 1757, has been immovable, on pain of violating a complex series of international agreements about religious sites in Jerusalem.  

List of unusual deaths.

List of unusual articles.

List of map projections.  

List of completely silent musical compositions. Predates John Cage by some time.

List of people who have accepted a Golden Raspberry Award: “[Tom Green] had to be dragged off the stage while accepting one of his awards because he would not stop playing the harmonica.”

List of films that most frequently use the word f*ck. The Wolf of Wall Street is #3.

List of paradoxes.

List of people with the most children. Arthur Guinness makes a surprise appearance!  

List of collective nouns.

List of sexually active popes. Longer than you might expect.

List of common misconceptions.

List of last words. “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.” – Karl Marx

List of entertainers who died during a performance.

The greatest list of them all, the list of lists of lists.

Occasionally, Wikipedia gives me the vocabulary to describe something I didn’t realise other people also experience, like gleeking.

“From a scientific viewpoint, elves are not considered objectively real.” :(

The publication of Newton’s Principia was financed by leftover copies of a book about the history of fish.

By comparing the price of a big mac around the world, one can do a surprisingly good job at measuring purchasing power. 

In 1897, Indiana nearly legally declared pi to be equal to 3.2. It would have passed were it not for the intervention of a mathematician passing by.

“One way authors can protect themselves from libel suits is to say that a character has a small penis.”

If a pope and an antipope ever meet, they will annihilate.

The oldest animal ever found was 507 years old; Ming the clam was so named because it was born during the Mind dynasty. Scientists killed the clam while determining its age. :(

A brief fad: Victorian headless portraits.

On 19th January 2038, all 32-bit computer systems will crash, and no one is prepared for it.

Chameleons change colour to regulate temperature, express mood, and signal to others. Camouflage is at best a secondary goal.

The disambiguation disambiguation.

If a monkey takes a picture, who owns the copyright? 

Premature obituaries are surprisingly common.  The black nationalist Marcus Garvey read his obituary after suffering a stroke, which he was so upset by that it caused him to have a second stroke and die.

In 1979, the government of India shut down for a period of mourning over the death of the leader of the opposition, and closed schools and shops, despite the fact that he was still alive.

“Text-message reports that “Thatcher has died” caused a stir at a 2009 Canadian political event, and officials in Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s office had begun preparing a statement of condolence, until it was determined that the deceased Thatcher in question was actually Transport Minister John Baird‘s cat.”

The Ig Nobel Prize is awarded for the silliest piece of scientific research. The Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Lal Bihari, the founder of the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People.

Larry is Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.

In South Korea, is it widely believed that if you are left alone in a room with a fan, you will die.

Ikea is responsible for 1% of global wood consumption.  

After the goose fair got out of hand came the Great Nottingham Cheese Riot.

A disagreement over whether straw hats were acceptable menswear in the autumn once turned into an eight-day brawl.

Nintendo was established in 1889, and engaged in many lines of business before it settled on video games, including operating a chain of ‘love hotels’.

The Congo Free State: A colony so atrocious that another coloniser took it over as a humanitarian mission.  

The court dwarf: a vertically challenged individual employed just to make the king look taller in comparison. 

Incentives, incentives, incentives: The Great Stork Derby.

If children grow up with no exposure to language, what happens?

Thanks to various friends for suggesting entries.


 

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-term_nuclear_waste_warning_messages

French author Françoise Bastide and the Italian semiotician Paolo Fabbri proposed the breeding of so-called "radiation cats" or "ray cats". Cats have a long history of cohabitation with humans, and this approach assumes that their domestication will continue indefinitely. These radiation cats would change significantly in color when they came near radioactive emissions and serve as living indicators of danger.

-"If you have heard that “40% of marriages end in divorce” or some similar figure, you are probably misinterpreting the divorce-to-marriage ratio. "

Really? So what is the right number then? A cursory Google search shows 40-50% is a commonly repeated figure for "percentage of marriages that end in divorce", are you really claiming that all of those webpages are misinterpreting the divorce-to-marriage ratio? What is the basis for such a claim? It does not appear to be in the Wikipedia article, which says nothing about the percentage of marriages that end in divorce.

"Percentage of marriages that end in divorce" is an underspecified concept. There is only "percentage of marriages that end in divorce after n years". 

According to this NYT article, it is incredibly common to report (new divorces / new marriages) as the "% of marriages ending in divorce" – and this is misleading because it makes a decline in marriages look like an increase in the probability of divorce. The very large figures, like 50% or above, seem to be indeed reporting this figure. 

You could adjust for changing demographics of course, but one would think that introduces some uncertainty into the measurement.

I phrased my comment clumsily as a reason to link to something that would clarify the underspecified comment of a "divorce rate". It seems like 40% is a realistic figure for some countries after you do demographic adjustment, but, insofar as a higher figure is reported, it is because of a misunderstanding. 

I will think of a way to clarify this claim, or delete it entirely.

-"“Percentage of marriages that end in divorce” is an underspecified concept. There is only “percentage of marriages that end in divorce after n years”. "

The concept is perfectly well specified, just take n to be e.g. 75. But of course, it can only be measured for cohorts that are at least that old. Still, I would have assumed it possible to do some extrapolation to estimate what the value will be for younger cohorts (e.g. the NYT article you linked to says "About 60 percent of all marriages that eventually end in divorce do so within the first 10 years", so it should be possible to get a reasonable estimate of the percentage of marriages that end in divorce for cohorts at least 10 years old.

Anyway, the article says "The method preferred by social scientists in determining the divorce rate is to calculate how many people who have ever married subsequently divorced. Counted that way, the rate has never exceeded about 41 percent, researchers say." Obviously this method gives an underestimate of the total percentage of marriages to end in divorce. And even with that underestimate, the rate has gotten up to 41%. So I don't think the oft-quoted statistic is wildly off, even if it is based on bad methodology.

Fair enough. I have removed that part of the post. 

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