Our 35 Most Popular Stories of 2016

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From scientific breakthroughs to behind-the-scenes facts about your favorite TV shows from the 1980s, our readers have a thirst for all sorts of knowledge. Fortunately, our editors and writers share that quality. For proof, look no further than our 35 most popular stories of 2016. In case you weren’t obsessively refreshing mentalfloss.com all year, here’s what you missed:

1. Olive Oatman: The Pioneer Girl Who Became a Marked Woman, by Meg Van Huygen

2. Scientists Think They Figured Out What the Appendix Does, by Jordan Rosenfeld

3. 19 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of IKEA Employees, by Jessica Hullinger

4. 12 Fun Facts About ‘You Can’t Do That on Television,’ by Jennifer M. Wood

5. What Ever Happened to Waterbeds?, by Jeff Wells

6. How Scientists Are Preparing for the First Ever ‘All-American’ Eclipse, by David W. Brown

7. Scientists Find Non-Gluten Cause of Wheat Sensitivity, by Kate Horowitz

8. We’ve All Been Playing Uno Wrong, by Stacy Conradt

9. Zomething Different: A Brief History of Zima, by Jake Rossen

10. There’s an Oscar Among These C-3POs. Can You Spot It?, by Jennifer M. Wood

11. 9 Apps All Young Adults Should Have on Their Phones, by Shaunacy Ferro

12. The Tragic History of RC Cola, by Jeff Wells

13. 11 Twisted Facts About ‘The Far Side,’ by Mark Mancini

14. 22 Things You Owned in the ‘90s That are Worth a Fortune Today, by Shaunacy Ferro

15. West Michigan Is Home to a Giant Lavender Labyrinth, by Caitlin Schneider

16. A More Accurate World Map Wins Prestigious Japanese Design Award, by Shaunacy Ferro

17. 8 Under-the-Radar Costco Perks You’re Probably Missing Out On, by Kate Rockwood

18. Study Confirms What We Already Knew: Living Near Water Can Reduce Stress, by Kate Horowitz

19. 7 Mysterious People Without a Past, by Meg Van Huygen

20. 9 of the Most Isolated Towns on Earth, by Michele Debczak

21. Police Sketches of Literary Characters Based on Their Book Descriptions, by Andrew LaSane

22. Trash for Cash: An Oral History of Garbage Pail Kids, by Jake Rossen

23. 42 of the Least Popular Baby Names from 100 Years Ago, by Arika Okrent

24. 9 Movies That Were Supposed to Be Sequels to Other Movies, by Rudie Obias

25. How Starter Jackets Came Unraveled, by Jake Rossen

26. What is Imposter Syndrome, and What Can You Do About It?, by Jordan Rosenfeld

27. Why Is It ‘Eleven, Twelve’ Instead of ‘Oneteen, Twoteen’?, by Arika Okrent

28. How One Earthquake Erased an Empire and Changed the Course of Human History, by David W. Brown

29. Where Are They Now? The Key Players in The O.J. Simpson Trial, by Jennifer M. Wood

30. 9 Musicians Who Refused to Let “Weird Al” Yankovic Parody Their Songs, by Rudie Obias

31. The Photographer Who Captured America’s Dark Side, by Lucas Reilly

32. 15 Eerie Things About Japan’s Suicide Forest, by Kristy Puchko

33. These 10 Famous Songs Were All Written About the Same Woman, by Roger Cormier

34. Here’s One Way to Rid Your Facebook Feed of Fake News, by Michele Debczak

35. Her Name Was Skeeter: The Mystery of the Missing Muppet, by Jake Rossen

December 31, 2016 – 2:31pm

10 of the World’s Most Entertaining New Year’s Customs

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Watching the ball drop in Times Square, raising a toast, and sealing the night with a smooch may be the most quintessentially American ways to celebrate, but around the world, revelers and party-goers give the traditional ball drop a run for its money. From shattering dishes to carefully choosing underwear for the night, here are 10 of the world’s most entertaining ways to ring in the New Year.



While some of us don our most shimmery dresses for the New Year’s party—or our comfiest pajamas to celebrate with a low-key night in—Brazilians take a much simpler, minimalistic approach to ringing in the New Year: The dress code is for all-white attire, but the color of your underwear is thought to determine your arena of luck in the new year. Want to find love? Pick the pink panties. Financial security may be attained by wearing yellow undergarments, and green is for good health.


The Danish get a jump on cleaning out their cupboards by taking any chipped or unused crockery and shattering it against their friends’ and families’ doors to ring in the new year. The more plate pieces piled at your doorstep, the more popular your family … which may or may not make the next day’s hungover cleanup more manageable.


The Spanish don’t just celebrate the New Year with drink in hand—they ring it in with a mouth full of grapes. If you can fit 12 grapes into your mouth at midnight, you’re believed to have great luck in the coming year.


A typical ball-and-gown party doesn’t cut it in Siberia; they’re all about the thrill—and chill. To celebrate the New Year, some revelers participate in the annual “jump into a frozen lake and plant a New Year’s Tree at the bottom” tradition—sort of like a more extreme Polar Plunge. The divers then pass the champagne and dance around the tree before coming back up to the surface. But even those who don’t do the full tree dive will go for their own frozen swim—there’s a reason all Russian bath houses have an icy cold pool! It’s practically a national pastime.


In the town of Talca, Chile, locals add extra spirit to New Year’s Eve by celebrating the holiday in a cemetery, surrounded by all of their deceased loved ones. Legend has it this tradition started with a little breaking and entering, but it’s now a welcomed celebration that draws locals in by the thousands.


Estonia knows how to kick off the New Year right. Instead of resolving to diet and exercise, they eat—a lot. Traditionally, Estonians believed that by eating seven times on New Year’s Day, they could ensure a well-fed, abundant year. While this tradition has changed slightly over the years—Estonians celebrate with alcohol as much as food these days—it’s a tradition party-goers around the world participate in without even realizing it. (Cough, Seamless binge, cough.)


While the Thai New Year isn’t until April 13, their celebratory festival, called Songkran, is just too good to pass up: a water fight. Yes, a full-on water fight where major roads are blocked off and Thai locals—and, as you’d imagine, loads of visitors—use buckets, fire hoses, water guns, and even elephants to throw water at each other. Inner child, rejoice—and purchase Songkran plane tickets immediately.


Ecuador literally lights up on New Year’s Eve. Locals make large, paper-filled effigies that can resemble anyone from beloved pop culture figures like Homer Simpson to maligned politicians, and they set them on fire when the clock strikes midnight. As the tale goes, this burning ritual lets Ecuadorians forget the past and focus on a good New Year.


As one of the first countries to celebrate the New Year, Australians kick off the festivities with a major bang—to the tune of seven firework-filled barges. The annual 12-minute show—one of the world’s largest fireworks displays—dazzles more than 1 million spectators who gather along the waterfront, with the beautiful Sydney Opera House as its backdrop. They even host an earlier fireworks show, at 9 p.m., for any little Aussies whose bedtime is long before the main event.


To end things on a slightly absurd (and rather unsafe) note, we have Johannesburg, South Africa, where locals ring in the New Year by throwing old household items out the window—a quite literal “out with the old” type of symbolism. The tradition has gotten a bit out of hand in recent years, as residents in high-rise buildings have taken to tossing furniture, appliances, bottles and, well, just about anything out the windows. As you’d expect, this tradition comes with its set of annual injuries, but local government is doing its part to keep the New Year’s celebrations safe—even if it’s accompanied by the age-old warning, “Watch out below!”

All images via Getty.

December 31, 2016 – 2:00pm

15 Fun Facts About ‘When Harry Met Sally’

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columbia pictures

Nora Ephron’s most beloved romantic comedy opened in theaters more than 25 years ago. We’ll (still) have what she’s having.

1. Harry and Sally were modeled after director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron. Well, except for the falling in love part.

Reiner divorced fellow director Penny Marshall in 1981 after 10 years of marriage. When he met with Nora Ephron in the mid-’80s, he pitched a number of ideas for movies, including a comedy based on his dating experiences. Ephron agreed to write it after extensively interviewing Reiner. The two had many discussions about how men and women view sex, love, and relationships differently.

2. Those sweet “how we met” interludes throughout the movie are real love stories.

Reiner interviewed elderly couples about how they fell in love in preparation for the movie. He hired actors to re-tell their stories on the big screen.

3. Nora Ephron hated the movie’s title.

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It was extremely difficult for Ephron to settle on a title for her screenplay. She tried several, including Boy Meets Girl, How They Met, and Harry, This Is Sally. Reiner eventually turned the naming process into a contest among the crew members. Whoever picked the title would win a case of champagne. We don’t know who came up with When Harry Met Sally, but let’s hope he or she shared all that bubbly.

4. In the script’s first draft, Harry and Sally didn’t end up together.

Ephron felt that was the most realistic ending, but hey, this is the movies!

5. Reiner also fell in love by the end of the movie.

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During filming, he was introduced to photographer Michelle Singer by the film’s director of photography. The two married in 1989, the same year When Harry Met Sally came out. Reiner has said that finding his own happy ending helped make one for Harry and Sally more believable.

6. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan weren’t the first choice for Harry and Sally.

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Albert Brooks turned down the role of Harry, because he thought the movie was too reminiscent of Woody Allen. (Brooks also turned down the lead role in Big and Pretty Woman. D’oh!) Rob Reiner initially wanted Susan Dey of the TV show L.A. Law to play Sally. He also considered Elizabeth Perkins from Big and Elizabeth McGovern from Ordinary People. John Hughes movie queen Molly Ringwald was nearly cast, but declined due to a scheduling conflict.

7. Molly Ringwald did eventually play Sally Albright, though.

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In 2004, the popular film was adapted into an unpopular stage play on London’s West End. Luke Perry (yes, really) and Alyson Hannigan from How I Met Your Mother played Harry and Sally in its first run and were later replaced by Michael Landes from Final Destination 2 and Molly Ringwald.

8. Meg Ryan sort of paved the way for Julia Roberts.

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Ryan’s first leading role would’ve been as Shelby in Steel Magnolias, but she turned down the part to play Sally instead. Another up-and-coming actress named Julia Roberts took her place and later starred in Pretty Woman—another part Meg Ryan turned down.

9. Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner have been good friends since 1975.

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They met when they played best friends on All in the Family. Many conversations between Harry and his best male friend Jess, played by Bruno Kirby, were inspired by the friendship between Crystal and Reiner. So were the scenes in which Harry and Sally watch the same movie from different apartments. Bromance, anyone?

Meanwhile, Carrie Fisher, who plays Sally’s best female friend Marie, was BFFs with Reiner’s ex-wife Penny Marshall. Hmmm, wonder if that ever got awkward…

10. The split-screen scenes are an ironic homage to 1959’s Pillow Talk.

At the time Pillow Talk was made, the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, set moral guidelines for all the films released by major studios. Movies weren’t allowed to show a couple in bed (or bath or beyond) together, or any sort of sexual relationship between unmarried partners. (The code was abandoned in 1968.) Harry and Sally were kept apart to show how close they were as “just friends.”

11. Estelle Reiner, the director’s mother, had one line—and it was probably the movie’s most memorable.

She’s the older woman who says, “I’ll have what she’s having” at Katz’s Delicatessen. The American Film Institute ranked it #33 in its list of the top 100 movie quotations. The famous line wasn’t in the original script. Crystal suggested it after he and Ryan improvised the entire scene. The two were originally supposed to discuss “faking it” without an actual demonstration.

12. Katz’s is proud of its famous scene.

This sign appears above the table where it was shot:

Improv Everywhere reenacted the scene in 2013, this time with contagious fake orgasms. Warning: NSFW unless you work at Katz’s.

13. Crystal improvised throughout the movie.

Watch closely at 0:29; Ryan laughs out of character and looks at Reiner off-camera. The director decided to keep the scene.

Crystal also improvised much of the scene when he admits he loves Sally, including the line, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Swoon.

14. The real-life bookstore where Harry and Sally meet for the third time inspired another Ephron movie.

Harry and Sally finally become friends when they spot each other at Shakespeare and Co. on Broadway and 79th. When the store closed after a Barnes & Noble opened on the Upper West Side, Ephron was inspired to write a romantic comedy around the David and Goliath struggle between local stores and large national chains. You’ve Got Mail came out in 1998, nearly a decade after when Harry Met Sally.

15. No one expected When Harry Met Sally to be a hit.

The film was up against the summer blockbusters Batman, Ghostbusters II, Licence to Kill, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. When Harry Met Sally opened in just 41 theaters on July 12, grossing $1 million. It opened nationwide July 21. And the rest is romantic comedy history.

Additional Sources: DVD Commentary by Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner

December 31, 2016 – 8:00am

A Brief History of “Auld Lang Syne”

Every New Year’s Eve, after the champagne has been popped, the ball has dropped, and everyone is feeling very merry indeed, revelers queue up the same song they’ve been queuing up for decades. You know the one—it makes you cry, even though you don’t understand it and know almost none of the words.

A handful of options pop up when you search for the meaning of “auld lang syne”: “times/days gone by,” “old time’s sake,” “long long times/ago,” and even “once upon a time” among them. The most common consensus is something like “for old time’s sake,” which is about as direct an interpretation as you can get, as the word-for-word translation is “old long since.” The line about “for auld lang syne” is essentially, “for (the sake of) old times.” (For the record, it never says the totally nonsensical “for the sake of auld lang syne.”) Beyond the words themselves, there’s even less agreement about exactly how the tune came to be a New Year’s Eve tradition.

The song originated as a poem, but it probably wasn’t written by Robert Burns as is commonly believed—at least not entirely. The poet was simply the first person to write down an old Scottish folk song (it bears more than a passing resemblance to “Old Long Syne,” a ballad that was printed by James Watson in 1711). Burns himself said, “I took it down from an old man,” and whether it was transcribed or co-authored, it’s safe to say that the “Auld Lang Syne” we know today is some combination of an old poem and Burns’ creative input.

In any case, Burns sent a copy of the poem to a friend in 1788 and wrote: “There is more of the fire of native genius in it than in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians!” Later he contributed it to the Scots Musical Museum.

Five years later, Burns wrote to James Johnson, who was assembling a book of old Scottish songs: “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.”

It’s unclear whether Johnson linked Burns to the song in his credits, but by the time the book was published in 1796, the poet was dead. He’d never know that those words would eventually help secure his own cultural immortality.

The words aren’t the only element that evolved over the years; it’s believed that the original tune is different than the one we drunkenly hum along to today. Originally, the song had a more traditional folk sound, one that can be heard in (of all things) 2008’s Sex and the City movie. This version is still performed today, but with much less frequency than the New Year standard. The melody we all know was used at the suggestion of music publisher George Thompson.

How then, did a Scottish folk song with a murky provenance and nothing at all to do with New Year’s Eve become associated with the holiday? It’s largely thanks to bandleader Guy Lombardo. In 1929, Lombardo and his band played “Auld Lang Syne” as transitional music while performing at New York City’s Roosevelt Hotel during a New Year’s Eve broadcast. It was played just after midnight, and heard over radio and television airwaves, inadvertently spawning a global tradition.  

Today, “Auld Lang Syne” is one of the most recognizable songs around the world, where it’s played at funerals, celebrations, and as a warning that closing time is approaching at stores throughout Japan.

To impress your date this New Year’s Eve, learn the the correct words here—and don’t worry too much about the meaning. As Sally Albright says: “Anyway, it’s about old friends.”

December 31, 2016 – 7:00am

10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions

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New Year’s resolutions have a habit of being broken more than any other goals. This year, impress your friends and show yourself resolved to follow through with these 10 scientifically-proven ways to honor your commitments to self-improvement and healthy change.


People who volunteer as little as two hours each week report greater happiness, sense of purpose, and increased health. One study in Social Science and Medicine suggests that volunteering might contribute to happiness levels “by increasing empathic emotions, shifting aspirations” and helping people to re-evaluate their own life situations. Moreover, volunteering is protective in older adults against cognitive and physical decline.


If this year you’re planning to learn a language or unpack that ukulele, you might want to take advantage of “happiness researcher” Shawn Achor’s “20 second rule.” The author of The Happiness Advantage discovered that just 20 extra seconds of “activation effort”—the energy it takes to get started—is enough to cause most people not to do an activity. He found that if he reduced the time it takes to do something new by 20 seconds, such as moving the guitar next to the couch instead of hiding it away in the closet, he was more likely to do it every day.


Contrary to the popular notion that tortured artists make the best art, a recent study in the journal Nature found a link between increased creativity and positive emotion. Lead author Malinda McPherson found that “emotion has a huge effect on the way our brains can be creative,” she told The Atlantic. Her research with jazz musicians found that positive emotion was related to a “deeper state of creative flow.”


If this is the year you aim to become more productive, the best thing you can do for yourself is to take more breaks. That’s right, do less to do more. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that frequent, short breaks that begin as early as a couple of hours after you begin work are most effective at refreshing employees. Overwork leads to exhaustion and an increase in stress hormones, which can create cycles of burnout.


Research shows we are happier when we spend our money on experiences and travel versus obtaining material things. Don’t forget the axiom, you can’t take it with you when you die… People’s greatest regrets at the end of their lives tend to be the things they did not do. And, another study in Psychological Science, in which participants were fed chocolates, found that we tend to focus most potently on the “last” of an experience, so end your vacations on a high note.


While there is an undeniable physical addiction to break with smoking, the National Institutes of Health has found that smoking cessation counseling programs and/or cognitive behavioral therapy are the most effective way to ensure you can quit. Of course, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which may include weaning off cigarettes through nicotine gum, nasal sprays, patches, or lozenges, improves quit rates by as much as 50 to 70 percent over no NRT therapy, so the two methods together may give you mega quitting power.


Focusing on how much you weigh can defeat the process of trying to lose weight, according to an unlikely source: neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, author of Why Diets Make Us Fat. She asserts that our brains control our body weight at a “set point” within 10-15 pounds, because the brain is hardwired for survival. The brain perceives diets as a threat to survival and increases stress hormones, which are also linked to increased weight gain. Aamodt says to concentrate on a slow and steady regime of regular exercise, good food choices, and stress reduction instead. But don’t rely upon exercise alone. Try mindful eating—pay careful attention to your feelings and attitudes about food and choose opportunities to give your body what it needs versus what it craves.


When you make it harder to take out money, you save more. According to a study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, participants who committed to a restricted access savings account, versus a control group that did not, saved more money than the control. You can set up a savings account that penalizes you for taking out money over a certain dollar amount or more than a specified number of times per month. You could also take a set chunk of savings and invest it in a Certificate of Deposit (CD), which has a fixed investment period of usually several years, and a fixed interest rate, so you’re guaranteed not to lose any money.


Pop-science has erroneously spread the belief that all it takes to forge a new habit is about one month of consistent activity. A British researcher found that, in fact, it’s closer to 66 days. Luckily, you can miss a day in there, so long as you lay out a plan in advance that sets out concrete actions you can take on a daily basis, and do not feel pressured to “perform.”


The secret to successfully following through on any of these resolutions is to start with those that don’t require willpower. A body of research has found that when people must exert extreme willpower, a function of the prefrontal cortex, it exhausts other functions such as mental endurance and the will to follow through. Willpower is a mental muscle that must be trained, so consider choosing a resolution that adds something to your life (such as joining a book club or making more homemade smoothies), rather than taking away (such as cutting out sugar or drinking all at once). Or, make strengthening your willpower your resolution.

December 31, 2016 – 6:00am

Watch Liquid Mercury Freeze Solid … And Hammer Rubber Nails

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YouTube // The Royal Institution

Mercury is an unusual substance: it’s a metal that’s liquid at room temperature. This makes it quite useful in things like thermometers…and it makes for fun lab tricks if you’ve got the right equipment.

In the video by the Royal Institution below, Olympia Brown makes a hammer out of mercury. This is possible because mercury freezes solid at -38.83 degrees Celsius, and liquid nitrogen is far colder than that. From there, she proceeds to hammer similarly frozen rubber “nails” (just pointy slivers of rubber) using the mercury hammer. I can guarantee that this is the first time I’ve seen a mercury hammer.

Along the way, of course, Brown explains how temperature works in relation to different substances. It’s all about the third law of thermodynamics: The entropy of a perfect crystal at absolute zero is exactly equal to zero. Tune in, my fellow nerds!

December 31, 2016 – 4:00am

Two families escaped over the Berlin Wall…

Two families escaped over the Berlin Wall by building a hot air balloon. A mechanic and a mason, used their mechanical know-how to build a hot air balloon engine out of old propane cylinders. Their wives pieced together a makeshift balloon from scraps of canvas and old bed sheets. 10

10 of History’s Most Lavish Parties

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Truman Capote at his Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel New York, with ‘The Washington Post’ publisher Katharine Graham. Photo by Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

You can’t have a good party without booze, tunes, and snacks. But you can’t have a legendary party without wine cork shooting and life-sized desserts. These 10 parties have gone down in history for their decadence in everything from venue to menu. Lead by their example for a truly elegant holiday party, or just a crazy ritzy birthday bash.


Truman Capote hosted this 1966 soiree and, as you can imagine, it attracted a ton of celebrities. Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, and Candice Bergen attended alongside socialites like Gloria Vanderbilt and Lee Radziwill. In fact, the guest list was so glamorous that Andy Warhol quipped to his date, “We’re the only nobodies here.” The bash was ostensibly held in honor of newspaper publisher Katharine Graham, but it was mainly an excuse to gather 540 of Capote’s closest friends into The Plaza’s Grand Ballroom. Guests could only wear their fanciest black and/or white evening wear. Masks were also required, and ladies were expected to carry fans. It might sound like an unbearably strict dress code, but the aesthetic became so famous that Diddy and Princess Yasmin Aga Khan both later copied it.


You’d expect a ballet party to be a bit stiff, but this Parisian premiere was a blast. Following the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Les Noces, wealthy expats George and Sara Murphy decided to throw a party in the composer’s honor in 1923. It all took place on a large barge on the Seine River. Since the florists were closed on Sunday, Sara got creative with the centerpieces. She piled toy cars, clowns, and fire engines on each table. The guests were taken with the whimsical decorations—especially Pablo Picasso, who rearranged them into a mini-mountain capped with a cow atop a fireman’s ladder. Not to be outdone, filmmaker Jean Cocteau dressed as a captain and ran around with a lantern telling everyone the barge was sinking. But no one could steal the thunder of the man of the hour. Stravinsky ended the night by jumping through a huge laurel wreath, like it was a circus hoop.


The way the Museum of the City of New York tells it, this was the ball that changed New York City society. Prior to this 1883 affair, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor called all the shots on the social scene. She had turned her nose down on the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilts, and refused to acknowledge them. But Alva Vanderbilt got her calling card at long last when she sent out the invitations for a housewarming party at her Fifth Avenue mansion—and strategically “forgot” to include Astor’s daughter Carrie. So the Astors formally acknowledged the Vanderbilts, and later attended the party, along with nearly 1200 other guests. This was a costume party and New York’s elite did not disappoint. While Kate Fearing Strong’s taxidermied cat head hat was certainly hard to forget, the most memorable outfit belonged to Alva’s sister-in-law. Alice Vanderbilt arrived in the now-famous “Electric Light” dress, a yellow satin number with batteries hidden underneath. Those helped her torch light up, which in turn helped her look like a glamazon Statue of Liberty.


Swanky parties were kind of Marie-Hélène de Rothschild’s thing. The baroness was famous in French society for the over-the-top, star-studded galas she hosted in the Rothschild country home. While many consider the 1971 Proust Ball to be her best, the 1972 Surrealist Ball had by far the most flair. Invitations were printed backwards, requiring a mirror to decipher. Each place setting included a furry charger plate, and the centerpieces were downright bizarre. (One was a mess of limbless dolls.) For dessert, the crowd dined on a pudding shaped to resemble a life-size naked woman resting on a bed of roses. Guests included Audrey Hepburn, who wore a rattan bird cage on her head, and Salvador Dali, who fit in all too well.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Manhattan millionaire Bradley Martin and his wife Cornelia sure knew how to drum up publicity. According to The New York Times, the couple’s 1897 decadent ball was “the universal and engrossing subject of interest and discussion wherever the members of the gay world, not only in New York, but in the other large Eastern cities, have assembled” for the three weeks leading up to it. During that time, guests prepped their historical costumes. One came as Pocahontas, another as Catherine the Great. The hostess herself riffed on Mary, Queen of Scots with a $60,000 gown. She also decked out the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel with canopies of orchids and roses, even festooning the candelabra with Louis XVI-era “reticules,” or silk pouches bursting with flowers. Although many condemned the ball as an exercise in tacky excess, the guests clearly enjoyed themselves. Some didn’t clear the dance floor until 5am.


What does the multimillionaire behind Forbes magazine do when he turns 70? Fly a couple hundred friends to his palace in Tangier, of course. Malcolm Forbes opted for a destination birthday party in 1989 when he invited almost 1000 friends to join him in Morocco, all expenses paid. In addition to chartering their jets, Forbes treated his guests to a fireworks show, heaps of barbecued lamb, and constant entertainment from Moroccan musicians and belly dancers. The three-day bash attracted famous faces such as Walter Cronkite and Elizabeth Taylor, who was Forbes’s date and honorary hostess for the weekend.


In 1911, fashion designer Paul Poiret clearly had Ali Baba on the brain when he put together his “Thousand and Second Night” costume gala—and he took his theme very seriously. If guests showed up without a costume, they were instructed to leave or put on some “harem” trousers from Poiret’s spring collection. Once they were suitably attired, attendees walked past an enormous golden cage containing Poiret’s wife and a chorus singing Persian songs. They could then listen to actor Édouard de Max recite selections from One Thousand and One Nights or simply pal around with the monkeys and macaws roaming free in the garden, alongside several famous ballerinas.


People knew that Carlos de Beistegui’s Venetian soiree would be something special even before it was dubbed the “ball of the century.” According to The Daily Beast, some were so anxious about getting an invitation that they sailed into town early and anchored, waiting for word from Beistegui, heir to a silver empire. The memory of World War II hadn’t quite faded by 1951—the UK, for instance, was still subject to rationing—so the upper crust was ready to party. The costume theme for Le Bal Oriental was loose, but best described as “retro aristocrats.” Louis XIV and Cleopatra were both costume choices, but the host himself went as the “procurer of the Republic of Venice” in a bright red wig and platform boots. Everyone arrived via gondola, so that each time a new character arrived, the crowd burst into cheers.


At this point, Google is expected to throw a great party. But the company first made social waves with its Greek-inspired “Googlympus” holiday blowout in 2006. Planners reportedly spent five days setting up tents, each “hosted” by a different Greek god, along San Francisco’s Pier 48. When the big night finally arrived, guests had all sorts of activities at their disposal. They could snap Polaroids in outrageous wigs, shoot wine corks, or crash on couches as orchestras, burlesque dancers, and jazz singers performed. And if they got lost bopping between the Aphrodite and Poseidon tents, it was no sweat: the giant inflatable whale made for a natural meeting point.


In the aughts, few parties loomed as large as this notorious Bloomberg holiday bash in 2000. The London office spent an estimated £1 million on the festivities, which were inspired by the seven deadly sins. The “gluttony” bar was stocked with troughs of truffles and candy, while the “lust room” included a 25-foot-wide bed covered in purple satin. But that’s not all—according to New York magazine, the party also featured nine other bars, manicure booths, neck massage stations, live bands, drag queens, cabaret, a casino, and a sushi bar. Legend has it that the entertainers even waved cash in the guests’ faces screaming, “Money, ain’t it gorgeous?”

December 31, 2016 – 2:00am

The Weird Week in Review

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Tasmania Police via Facebook


A large Australian fur seal roamed the streets of Newstead in Tasmania on Monday. The seal, nicknamed Mr. Lou-seal, appeared to be looking for a good place to nap when he crawled up on the hood of a Toyota. When the heavy seal climbed on to the car’s roof, it did considerable damage. Officers from the Parks and Wildlife department arrived to find the seal asleep. They tranquilized it and took it for a medical exam before a planned release. Newstead is about 30 miles from the ocean; it’s the first time a seal has been reported that far inland in Tasmania.


Santa Claus is a member of the North Pole City Council in Alaska. Everyone in town knows him, and knows he legally changed his name to Santa Claus years ago. But Facebook didn’t know that, so his Facebook account was suspended on Christmas Day.

Claus said he was never given a reason for being blocked and was asked to verify his identity multiple times.

“They just don’t believe my name is Santa Claus or I live in North Pole,” he said in an interview hours before his access was restored.

Claus said he sent multiple forms of proof of identity, including copies of his passport, Alaska driver’s license and his letter of appointment to the North Pole City Council. Claus also provided Facebook a letter of appointment to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission signed by Gov. Bill Walker.

On Tuesday, Facebook reinstated Claus’s Facebook page with apologies. Claus has around 300,000 followers.


Most Star Wars fans were too excited to even think of falling asleep during Rogue One, but Justin Haworth of Cornelius, Oregon, had already had a few drinks. He went to a late showing of the movie last Friday and nodded off about 20 minutes into the feature. When he awoke, it was 1 a.m., the theater was locked, and no one was around. He tripped the burglar alarm and waited for the police, but no one came. He called the police’s non-emergency number, but no one answered. Then Haworth called 911. The police, after failing to contact the theater owner, directed him to an emergency exit, where they were waiting for him. Officers were surprised that the theater staff did not find Haworth, but agreed that no crime had been committed.


Dr. Pierre-Emmanuel Bouet was astonished when he saw the scan of his pregnant patient at 22 weeks along. The baby’s legs were seen sticking out of the uterus into the mother’s torso on her side. It appears as if the baby had kicked a hole in the side of the womb! How could she suffer such a rupture without pain and bleeding? The Washington Post had an image and the story:

“The fetal legs did not cause the rupture,” Bouet said. Instead, the woman’s history of five C-sections likely led to a tear, in the obstetrician’s view. Because of scarring from the previous births, parts of the uterus remained atypically rigid instead of enlarging during the woman’s latest pregnancy. The uterine wall ruptured when it was unable to expand, causing an inch-long tear (pictured above, marked by the arrows).

The mother was unaware of the rupture and displayed no symptoms. Women with uterine ruptures usually feel pain, Bouet told The Post, brought about by internal bleeding. But the hernia “compressed the walls of the uterine rupture,” he said, “and acted as a hemostatic effect.” That is, the position of the amniocele and baby legs plugged the rupture, preventing blood loss.

Despite the precarious situation, the parents decided to continue with the pregnancy, and the infant was delivered by cesarean section at 30 weeks. Six months later, the baby is doing well.


Ashlynd Howell of Little Rock, Arkansas, knows more about using the internet than you’d expect of a 6-year-old. Her mother Bethany was napping on the couch when Ashlynd leapt at the opportunity to order some toys. She took Bethany’s hand and pressed her thumb against the screen of her phone to unlock her Amazon app, then ordered $250 in Pokemon merchandise. When Bethany awoke and found 13 receipts for the purchases, she thought she’d been hacked. But Ashlynd readily told her mother that she had been shopping. The family was able to return only four of the items.

December 31, 2016 – 1:00am