From Tumbling Cats to Musical Roads: This Week's Curios

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Every day of the year, Curious.com CEO Justin Kitch writes a quirky fact, known as the Daily Curio, intended to tickle the brains of lifelong learners everywhere. This is a weekly digest.

Last week's Curios covered cat magic, fairy circles, and shooting at one trillion frames per second.

Curio No. 997 | The cat righting reflex meets the dead cat bounce
Most animals are naturally afraid of high places. Not cats. Incidences of cats falling from tall buildings are so common, vets have named the phenomenon high-rise syndrome. Scientists believe this to be an adopted trait from their big-cat relatives--who prefer to hunt from high places. Also, are also amazingly good at landing upright after long falls. Their landing mechanism, studied since the 1800s, and is called the cat righting reflex. When a cat falls, it twists to create angular momentum, then pulls in its paws to increase the torque, turning it upright again. Then it flattens its body out like a parachute, similar to flying squirrels... keep reading.

Curio No. 996 | How Super Soakers could save the planet
Like many inventors, Lonnie Johnson stumbled upon his most famous creation by mistake. Johnson was building an environmentally-friendly heat pump that ran on high-pressure water. When he hooked a prototype up to his bathroom sink, his everyday faucet became a high-powered jet cannon. As he watched the water fly through the air in a perfect stream, he had his "Eureka moment." Johnson put the heat pump on hold and focused on designing a high-pressure squirt gun for kids. In his spare time. His day job was designing stealth bombers for the Air Force, after a previous stint at NASA engineering missions to Jupiter and Saturn. After several years of refining his invention on nights and weekends, Johnson received a patent and sold the rights to a toy company... keep reading.

Curio No. 995 | Dumb people or dumb marketers?
Never underestimate the public's math illiteracy, I guess. In the early 1980s, executives at fast food chain A&W were struggling to compete with McDonald's wildly popular Quarter Pounder. Until somebody on the marketing team had a brilliant idea: the Third Pounder. It would cost less than a McDonald's Quarter pounder but contain more beef. 1/12th of a pound more to be exact, as I'm sure Curio readers can easily figure. And, at least according to most early reviews, it also tasted better. Yet when the Third Pounder came out, sales were lethargic. The crack team at A&W was stumped... keep reading.

Curio No. 994 | A musical road that slows speeders down
Finally an idea that could actually slow down speeders. In Tijeras, New Mexico, the state Department of Transportation has installed a custom patch of asphalt on Route 66 that--when driven over at exactly 45 miles per hour--plays the tune to "America the Beautiful." How is that possible? Precisely engineered metal plates are imprinted into wet asphalt to create grooves different distances apart. When driven over at a certain speed, the tires and road vibrate at the exact frequencies of specific musical notes. The more identically-spaced grooves in a row, the longer the note is held for... keep reading.

Curio No. 993 | Mysterious African fairy circles invade Australia
They are called fairy circles. And scientists are mystified by patterns of them dotting the Namibian grasslands in Africa. The patches of bare soil, which range from 6 to 36 feet in diameter, cover huge areas--and exist for an average of 41 years before giving way to new patches. Around the edges, vegetation grows thickly. After decades of investigation, biologists still don't understand how or why they are formed. Hence the name. (Although to my five-year-old daughter, fairies are a perfectly scientific explanation for such a phenomenon.) One early theory blamed large termite populations living under the grasslands... keep reading.

Curio No. 992 | The best bourbon in the world?
For whiskey lovers, a 20-year-old bottle of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve bourbon is as good as it gets. The cult whiskey came to fame after the Beverage Testing Institute gave it an unprecedented 99 out of 100 for its 1996 batch. Today it is considered the best bourbon ever produced by celebrity tastemakers like Anthony Bourdain and David Chang. But is Pappy really that much better? The Van Winkles started producing bourbon in the late 1800s. When prohibition shut down the vast majority of distilleries from 1920 to 1933, Pappy Van Winkle was one of only six allowed to stay open--thanks to a "medicinal" whiskey permit... keep reading.

Curio No. 991 | One trillion frames per second
Most movies are shot at 60 frames per second (fps). Newer smart phones can shoot video at 240 fps. A professional videographer might have a high-speed camera that can shoot over 1,000 fps. The more fps, the higher quality slow-motion videos a camera can produce. Since so many frames are recorded every second, even a speeding bullet or 100 mph fastball can be recorded hundreds of times as it flies by the camera and then played back slowly. The MIT Media Lab has taken this concept to the extreme. Their new camera technology, called femto-photography, can record 1 trillion frames per second! It is so fast it can capture a single burst of light as it flies through a scene... keep reading.

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