2011: For about five years, Thea Jourdan, a 31-year-old mom from Hampshire, England, had been eyeing a pink brooch that was kept under glass on a dusty shelf in a local junk shop. One day in 2011, she decided to shell out the £20 for it. Later, when Jourdan was having her engagement ring appraised for insurance purposes, the jeweler saw the brooch in the jewelry box and asked to take a look. The jeweler informed Jourdan that the stones on the brooch weren’t cheap glass, but valuable diamonds, with the center piece a near-flawless, 20-carat topaz. Thought to date to 19th century Russia, Jourdan later sold the brooch at auction for £32,000.
2012: In the rain forest of northern Madagascar in Africa, scientists found two tiny chameleons, a male and a female. At about only one inch long including the tail, the species was named Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon, and it’s thought to be the world’s smallest reptile. But oddly, the male’s genitals, a pair of organs called hemipenes, are nearly 20 percent of its body size. When researchers compared that to 51 other species of chameleon, they found that the nano-chameleon’s was the 5th largest. If you’re wondering why the scientists would study that, it turns out the shape of a reptile’s genitals is often specific to each species, which helps them to classify the reptile.
2013: Following the adoption of Zimbabwe’s Constitution in 2013, the southern African nation has 16 official languages—including English, Shona (the indigenous language spoken by three-quarters of the nation’s 15 million people), and more than a dozen regional languages spoken by minorities. Why so many? Out of respect for the country’s diverse—and often marginalized—ethnic groups. To have their language included in official government business is important not only for the flow of information, but for political representation.
2014: Underwater volcanoes near the Tonga Islands (in the South Pacific Ocean) started erupting in December 2014, shooting out lava flows that hardened into a new island within eight weeks. It connected two preexisting islands to form one new landmass—the newest on the planet Earth—named Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai.
2015: The German word sitzpinkler is a slang term for “wimp” or “unmanly,” but its literal meaning is “a man who sits down to urinate.” Such a practice is actually encouraged in Germany; public toilets frequently display large red signs requesting that men have a seat. Reason: men who stand are likely to leave a few drops on the floor, which is no fun for the custodians or the property owners—chemicals in urine can severely damage floors over time. In 2015, an apartment complex in Düsseldorf sued a former tenant for €1,900 (about $2,200), the cost of replacing his bathroom floor. The resident reportedly refused to sit down to urinate in his rented home, and according to expert testimony, the uric acid in the urine left behind eroded the floor tiles to the point where they had to be replaced. The non-sitzpinkler didn’t have to pay. In his ruling, Judge Stefan Hank declared that men have the right to pee while standing up.
2016: The Kansas City Royals’ playoff hopes were fading by early August, when a praying mantis flew into the dugout and landed on outfielder Billy Burns. The Royals came back to win the game, and Burns adopted the insect, naming it Rally Mantis. The team won five of its next six games, crediting Rally Mantis, so they took it on a road trip . . . and it died in its cage. A losing streak commenced. As luck would have it, another mantis showed up in the Royals’ dugout during a road game, and with “Rally Mantis Jr.” on board, the Royals won nine of their next 10 games. They’d finish the season just four games out of playoff contention, and a day after the 2016 campaign ended, Rally Mantis Jr. died.
2017: Psychologists at the University of Bath in England studied married couples in Bangladesh—a country exceptionally free of Western influence—to see if people instinctively lean to the right when going in for a kiss. The test subjects reported that, not surprisingly, right-handed people tend to lean right when they kiss, and lefties lean left. Also, husbands are 15 times more likely to initiate the kiss (also not surprising in a patriarchal society). However, regardless of who leans in first, or to which side, the one being kissed will almost always match the direction of the kisser. And most of the world—around 90 percent—is right-handed.
2018: Tamara Torlakson makes a point of going to the bathroom before running in a marathon, and the 2018 Mountains 2 Beach race in southern California was no exception. Even so, when she was about halfway through the 26.2-mile race, she realized she had to go again (number two). Portable toilets were set up at various points along the route . . . but Torlakson was making great time, and she didn’t want to let a bathroom break slow her down. Her solution: “I thought, ‘I don’t know if it’s possible to poop while running, but I’ll try,’” she told reporters. Well, it turns out you can poop while running. Torlakson ran the second half of the race in soiled shorts, completing the marathon in three hours and seven minutes, a personal record.
2019: Biologists at Tel Aviv University in Israel “tortured” tomato and tobacco plants by not watering them and cutting their stems. Sensitive microphones were placed a few inches away to record the reactions. Though not discernible to the human ear, the plants made a high-frequency “distress sound” between 20 and 100 kilohertz. In one test, after a researcher snipped a tomato stem, the plant “emitted 25 ultrasonic distress sounds over the course of an hour.” The control plants that weren’t tortured emitted about one sound per hour. Are these plants really screaming in pain? Or are they warning their neighbors that danger is near? The jury is still out, but the scientists speculate that not only can other plants and trees hear these squeals but so too can insects and other animals.
2020: In 1936, 17-year-old Helen Viola Jackson married James Bolin, who had served in the Union Army with the 14th Missouri Cavalry more than 50 years earlier. At the time of their wedding, he was 93, and the marriage was more of a business arrangement—Jackson worked as a housekeeper for a cash-strapped Bolin, and by marrying her, he ensured she’d receive his military pension upon his death. Bolin died in 1939; Jackson lived until 2020, making her the last remaining Civil War widow.
2021: A Sri Lankan man (identified only as “Mr. Gamage”) hired some workers to dig a well in his yard. Because rubies, sapphires, and other gems are mined in the area, it probably came as no surprise to the workers when they found some precious stones while digging the well. That’s when Mr. Gamage says they discovered a “sapphire cluster,” or giant rock consisting of dozens or perhaps hundreds of sapphires stuck together in clay. The Serendipity Sapphire, as it has been named, weighs more than 1,120 lbs., making it one of the largest such clusters—if not the largest—ever found. The giant rock could be worth as much as $100 million.
2022: The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced the results of its Name-a-Snowplow contest. The top-eight vote getters will appear on new plows stationed across the state. The runaway winner, with more than 40,000 votes: Betty Whiteout, honoring Betty White, the beloved actress who died in December 2021 at age 99. The other winners: Ctrl Salt Delete, The Big Leplowski, Plowasaurus Rex, Scoop Dogg, Blizzard of Oz, No More Mr. Ice Guy, and Edward Blizzardhands.