From Walrus Stampedes To Commuting Secrets: This Week's Curios

Every day of the year, 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 musicians suing Republicans, the truth about MSG, and the one thing you can do to make your commute more tolerable.

Curio No. 1074 | Why you shouldn't DJ for the GOP
Get in line, Jagger. The Rolling Stones are threatening to sue Donald Trump for his use of their music at campaign rallies. This is just the latest incident in a long history of musicians invoking copyright law against Republican politicians. Ronald Reagan was the first GOP politician to come under fire from musicians; during his 1984 presidential campaign, both Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp came out against Reagan's use of their music. Isaac Hayes may have been the first musician to threaten actual legal action when he called out Bob Dole in 1996 for his unauthorized use of "Soul Man", charging up to $100,000 per play, if they went to court. Dole stopped using the song, but other politicians either didn't get the memo or wilfully ignored it... keep reading.

Curio No. 1073 | The latest flying danger: walrus stampede!
It's hard to think of any reason why airplane pilots should be issued warnings about walruses. But then there's this press release, titled "FAA Acts to Protect Walruses in Alaska." Apparently, low flying planes have been blamed for causing thousands of walrus deaths in the Arctic Circle over the past decade. Like other pinnipeds, walruses conduct haul-outs, where tens of thousands of seafaring animals come ashore to rest between feeding bouts. Haul-outs are typical, harmless behavior for walruses. But they can turn into the equivalent of a Black Friday line at Walmart in minutes. All it takes is a disturbance--be it the scent of a nearby polar bear or the drone of an airplane. The walruses immediately retreat to the water, which results in a stampede. In one haul-out stampede in 2014, over 60 pups were killed... keep reading.

Curio No. 1072 | Chinese restaurant syndrome, debunked
There was a time when "no MSG" meant "not tasty." Nowadays, it's touted as a health food claim, even though there is no widely accepted scientific evidence that MSG is bad for you. What gives? Like many chemicals before it, MSG has been the victim of a snowball effect decades in the making, which all started with a letter to the editor in the April 1968 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. In the letter, Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok outlined a fever that he experienced after eating Chinese food, which he called "Chinese restaurant syndrome." The symptoms: numbness at the back of the neck, general weakness, and palpitations. Dr. Kwok wasn't sure of the cause, but he did point to MSG as a possible culprit, since it was used in many Chinese dishes. More and more people wrote in to the Journal recalling their own experiences with Chinese restaurant syndrome until the media picked up on the story and latched onto MSG as the cause of the epidemic. The backlash against MSG came swiftly. Apparently so swiftly that nobody bothered to look up what MSG really is... keep reading.

Curio No. 1071 | Stop! A deer in the headlights!
Surprise, surprise! The biggest danger to US drivers is other drivers. OK, here's the real surprise: trailing not far behind... deer. Each year in the US, deer-vehicle collisions cause over $1 billion in damage. There's a scientific reason why so many deer get struck by cars. Headlights can temporarily blind them! Deer are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at twilight. Accordingly, their eyes are uniquely adapted for low light. Their large pupils, lenses, and reflectors filter in the maximum amount of light, and large amounts of rods and cones allow their brains to process the surroundings. Car headlights flood the scene with bright light, which overloads the deer's vision and causes temporary blindness. At which point, it freezes until it regains its vision... keep reading.

Curio No. 1070 | The secret to enjoying your commute
Commuting is awful, and I'm not just saying that from experience. In a 2004 study of over 900 employed people, commuting was associated with fewer positive emotions than any other activity. There are a few things that have been proven to make commuting a bit more tolerable, though--like engaging a stranger in conversation. Behavioral scientists have found that talking to a stranger on the train is more correlated with a happy commute than keeping to one's self... keep reading.

Curio No. 1069 | Your water might be older than the sun
Our solar system formed a long time ago--about 4.6 billion years, to be exact. But much of Earth's water was around long before that. According to a recent study, 30-50% of the water that makes up our oceans was formed millions of years before the sun. If you, like me, wonder how anybody could measure anything that happened billions of years ago, you have to hear how scientists arrived at this conclusion. It all starts with water that is rich in deuterium. Deuterium is a naturally-occurring variation of hydrogen... keep reading.

Curio No. 1068 | Forgotten female spies of the Civil War
Men fought the battles in the American Civil War, but the outcome of the war may have been decided by a single woman in Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth Van Lew, nicknamed "Crazy Bet"--we'll get to that in a minute--managed a spy ring that Union general Ulysses S. Grant credited with supplying the "most valuable information received from Richmond [the Confederate capital] during the war." Over the course of four years, Van Lew went from being a run-of-the-mill Union sympathizer to leaving messages in custard dishes. Her secret correspondence with prisoners at the notoriously inhumane Libby Prison led to the escape of over 100 Union soldiers... keep reading.

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