“How do you come up with ideas for articles on Commonplace Fun Facts?” Not a week goes by without that question being posed to members of the Commonplace creative team. The tone of the question typically implies that there is a shortage of interesting topics. In reality, we come across so many curiosities that the bigger question we face is, “What subjects will we leave unaddressed?”
Periodically, we go through the hopper of things we’d like to write about, but never seem to get around to. This is usually because it was just too cumbersome to make a whole article on that topic, or it started off promising but fizzled before we got to the end of it.
We still think these snippets of information deserve their own articles. It just doesn’t look like we’re going to get around to them any time soon. If you are sufficiently intrigued and want to take a stab at fleshing out the details, please let us know, and we’ll gladly consider giving you your big chance for fame and glory as an official Commonplace Fun Facts author.
In the meantime, we present to you these articles that never made it out of the incubation phase:
The Göring Brothers
Hermann Göring is remembered as one of history’s most reprehensible figures. As the head of the German Luftwaffe and leading member of the Nazi Party, he became the second most powerful man in Germany under Adolf Hitler. His support of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and subsequent persecution of Jews placed a significant measure of responsibility for the Holocaust squarely on his shoulders.
In contrast — and as evidence that reprehensibility is not necessarily a genetic characteristic — his brother Albert Göring despised Nazism and everything it stood for. He used the influence of his family name to help Jews escape Nazi persecution and flee Germany. He worked with the Czech resistance to encourage minor acts of sabotage against the Third Reich. Even though he was the polar opposite of his brother, Albert was shunned after the war because of his name. His humanitarian efforts did not receive public attention until after his death.
Mini Washington Monument
Not far from the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, there is a 12-foot-tall replica of the monument. It is underground and covered by a manhole cover. It was placed there in the 1880s and is officially known as “Bench Mark A.” It is part of the network of a million control points around the country that assure the accuracy of government maps.
It is intended to be the starting point for any map or measurement. It is part of the National Geodetic Survey and is designed to be highly stable. It was used most recently after the 2011 earthquake in Washington.
Timbuktu may very well be the most famous city that no one seems to be able to locate on a map. The city of about 55,000 people is located in Mali. It became an important point along the trade routes of the Mali Empire under Mansa Musa and as a center of learning. Since that time, its influence has declined, but its name lives on as synonymous with exotic destinations.
Big Monsters and Their Distinctive Sounds
Godzilla’s roar is an iconic sound. It was developed by Japanese composer Akira Ifukube, who used a decidedly-low-tech technique. He said, “For the roar of Godzilla, I took out the lowest string of a contrabass and then ran a glove that had resin on it across the string…. The different kinds of roars were created by playing the recording of the sound that I’d made at different speeds.”
When it came to the sound of King Kong beating his chest, that fell to RKO’s sound supervisor, Murry Spivak. He said in a 1933 interview with Popular Mechanics that efforts at making the sound by hitting a kettle drum and the floor with padded drumsticks didn’t work. He finally settled on the right sound when he started beating the chest of one of his assistants with the drumsticks. He said, “If wood will not take the place of flesh, let’s use flesh.”
As for King Kong’s roar, it is a combination of the roars of lions and tigers.
Project Orion was a proposal to power space vehicles by detonating a series of nuclear explosions behind the vessel. Out of this came some ideas for using nukes to propel other objects, as well. The condensed summary report of the Nuclear Pulse Vehicle Study can be read here. A report “On a Method of Propulsion of Projectiles by Means of External Nuclear Explosions” can be read here.
In 2017, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded $74,851 for a university to utilize 3-D technology to create electronic versions of puppets so viewers can “manipulate and play, through game-like technology, with a puppet or other performative object held in a digital archive.” The taxpayer dollars are being used to scan up to 15 puppets into a system that will enable viewers to control puppet functions and facial expressions either on a desktop computer or virtual reality device.
Peaceful Nuke Explosions
The Soviet Union had some pretty creative ways to use the most powerful weapons ever created. In addition to the times it used a nuke to put out a fire, the USSR explored other possibilities through the “Peaceful Nuclear Explosions for National Economy” program (also known as Program 7). Under the umbrella of this program, scientists looked for ways to use nuclear explosions to help with excavation, mineral exploration, and oil and gas production. All told, Program 7 conducted 119 nuclear explosions, with the last one taking place in 1988. These denotations included:
- 39 explosions for geological exploration (trying to find new natural gas deposits by studying seismic waves produced by small nuclear explosions)
- 25 explosions for intensification of oil and gas deposits
- 22 explosions for creating underground storage for natural gas
- 5 explosions for extinguishing large natural gas fountains
- 4 explosions for creating channels and dams (including the Chagan test in Kazakhstan, and the Taiga test on the potential route of the Pechora–Kama Canal)
- 2 explosions for crushing ore in open-pit mines
- 2 explosions for creating underground storage for toxic wastes
- 1 explosion to facilitate coal mining in an underground mine
- 19 explosions were performed for research purposes (studying possible migration of the radioactivity from the place of the explosions).
Fantomah — the First Female Superhero
More than a year before Wonder Woman became the quintessential female superhero, Fantomah made her appearance. She was the creation of writer-artist Fletcher Hanks, who used the pseudonym Barclay Flagg. Fantomah was a mysterious woman who protects the jungle with her superpowers. Her powers included the ability to fly, trans mutate things from one item into another, levitate objects, and transform people into other forms. When she used her powers, her beautiful features were replaced with a blue skull.
Fantomah appeared for the first time in Jungle Comics #2 and made her final appearance for that publication in issue #51 in March 1944. Since that time, she has reappeared in different publications and is now considered to be in the public domain. She continues to make appearances, including the series Fantomah, begun in 2017 by ChapterHouse Comics.
The Flint Wedding Sting
On September 4, 1990, police in Flint, Michigan, arrested a bunch of drug dealers by staging a fake wedding and inviting known drug traffickers to the event. At the height of the celebration, the band played “I Fought the Law and the Law Won.” Upon the conclusion of the song, a guest stood and asked all police officers to stand. The rest, he announced, were under arrest. The bride lifted the hem of her wedding dress and withdrew her .38-caliber handgun from her leg holster and assisted her fellow police officers in rounding up the miscreants.
There is a distinct species of ant that is found only within a 14-block section of New York City. Known as the ManhattAnt, scientists believe it evolved thanks to isolation within the City That Never Sleeps.