From Heimlich to Wittgenstein: 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 metaphysical door handles, Fabergé eggs, and why some people just don't like music.

Curio No. 1053 | When a door handle is not just a door handle
Ludwig Wittgenstein is known as an influential philosopher of the 20th century, but he gets no love for his contribution to modern door handle design. The Wittgenstein handle, designed in 1927, is considered the model for every subsequent tubular handle. It's a simple l-shaped steel lever, but Wittgenstein designed several variations--all of which appear in a single house in Vienna. How Wittgenstein got into door handles stems from the years following the publication of his first and only book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. After teaching primary school, the philosopher receded from society, working as a gardener at a monastery and living in a shed... keep reading.

Curio No. 1052 | The rubber-hand illusion
Scientists have found a trick that induces a real out-of-body experience. It's called the rubber-hand illusion, and you can recreate it at home--assuming you have a willing participant and a rubber hand lying around somewhere. First, cover one of the participant's hands so they can't see it. Then, place an artificial hand beside the hidden hand and direct the participant's eyes to it. Finally, stroke both hands simultaneously with a brush. After a few minutes, most people will start to feel the stroking in the artificial hand rather than their real hand. And, if asked to close their eyes and indicate their real hand, they will point to the artificial hand... keep reading.

Curio No. 1051 | Not feeling the beat
If you know someone who claims to "not like music," you may think they're crazy or lying. Not so. Some people--anywhere from 1-5% of the population--just don't derive pleasure from listening to music, due to a psychiatric condition called musical anhedonia. Anhedonia is a general term that refers to the inability to enjoy something that other people generally find pleasurable, like social interaction. Often it's a symptom of depression, but musical anhedonia can apply to people who are otherwise perfectly happy and healthy. In a recent study, researchers polled 1,000 people on their musical interests and translated their responses into a musical interest score... keep reading.

Curio No. 1050 | There's a horoscope born every second
If you believe in horoscopes or fortune-telling, I have some bad news. You are experiencing the Barnum effect. That's the phenomenon of believing statements like "You have a fear of failure," and "you have a tendency to be self-critical" apply specifically to you. This effect was first demonstrated by psychology professor Bertram Forer. Forer gave his students a test, which he called the "Diagnostic Interest Blank," or DIB. The DIB asked students to fill out a list of "hobbies, reading materials, personal characteristics, job duties, and secret hopes and ambitions of one's ideal person." Then, after "evaluating" the students' responses, he gave each a "unique" personality assessment. In reality, every student got the exact same 13 bullet points... keep reading.

Curio No. 1049 | A short history of Fabergé eggs
You may know Fabergé eggs as things criminals steal in movies like James Bond and Ocean's Twelve. But it's their place in Russian history, not Hollywood, that makes them so valuable. The first Fabergé egg was commissioned in 1885 by Tsar Alexander III as an Easter gift for his wife. Easter was the most important holiday in the Russian Orthodox Church. Traditionally, eggs were hand-dyed, blessed by a priest, and then given to family and friends. Over the centuries, these gift eggs had become more ornate and, for the higher classes, were fabricated by artists with precious metals or jewels. Alexander, intent on coming up with the finest gift egg, enlisted the jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé... keep reading.

Curio No. 1048 | Fill in the blanks
In Curio #812, we learned about how crosswords were invented. But making them is a fascinating process in and of itself. The first step to making a crossword is to come up with a theme. The theme ties together several answers in the puzzle--typically the longest ones. Then comes black square placement. The placement of black squares is mostly governed by an oddly-specific set of rules, which has been passed down over time: no one- or two-letter answers, grids must have 180° rotational symmetry, each side must have an odd number of squares, and black squares cannot account for more than 1/6 of the puzzle... keep reading.

Curio No. 1047 | Heimlich uses the Heimlich
Give 'em the Heimlich. That's exactly what the inventor of the emergency response for choking did last Monday. Dr. Henry Heimlich invented his technique over 40 years ago, but he claims that he never got to use it in a life-or-death scenario. Until last week. Heimlich, now 96, was dining at his retirement home when he noticed fellow resident Patty Ris choking on a piece of hamburger. He promptly administered the Heimlich maneuver, successfully dislodging the food and saving Ris' life. However, several news sources have questioned whether this really was the first time Heimlich used his own maneuver... keep reading.

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