10 Facts that Sound Completely Unrealistic, but are Actually True
In this age of information, we are constantly bombarded with astounding claims that try to convince us of things that might or might not be true in reality. While many of us do spend a minute or two to verify them, these claims, even false ones, more often than not still survive in the world of the Internet. One such example is the claim that astronauts of Apollo 11 were required to sign customs declaration after landing which was debunked on NASA’s Facebook page. Despite many such claims circulating on the Internet, we did manage to find some facts that sound completely unrealistic but are actually true.
1 In 1987, American Airlines saved $40,000 by removing one olive from every salad served to their first class passengers.
Getting rid of something redundant is one of the many ways companies cut their costs and improve efficiency. In one such example, American Airlines found that while many of their passengers do eat their salads, most of them ignore the olives. Robert Crandall, who was the head of the airlines back then, decided to forego serving the olives saving tens of thousands.
In a similar move, Southwest Airlines decided in 1994 not to print their logo on their rubbish bags saving $300,000 annually. United Airlines removed refresher towels for short-distance flights and also grapefruit juice, which was less popular than orange juice, from its bar menu saving a total of 200 million dollars. (1, 2)
2 Drowning, not thirst, is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the Sahara Desert, or any other desert in general.
Though deserts often invoke pictures of extreme heat and lack of water to the mind, they are not strangers to rains and flowing streams known as arroyos and wadis. These streams are dry throughout the year except when it rains. Unfortunately, rains in deserts are sudden, infrequent, and heavy often resulting in flash floods. One of the storms in the Sahara delivered a record 44 millimeters of rain in just three hours, and large storms there are capable of delivering up to one millimeter of rain per minute.
As deserts don’t have the kind of water drainage present in places with regular rains and the rains fall too quickly for the dry, clay-like soil to absorb, there is an excessive amount of water overflow. The sandy deserts pose a different kind of threat: quicksands and sandstorms. When the sand becomes saturated with water, it becomes a semi-liquid substance that is difficult to escape. If it’s not the rains, it’s the sand itself that drowns the people. Sandstorms can reach as high as 1.6 kilometers (0.99 miles) and can be devastating. (1, 2)
3 If you could fold a newspaper in half 103 times, it would be thicker than the width of the observable universe.
Assume that it is possible to fold a paper in half 103 times and that you are using a copy paper which is one-tenth of a millimeter thick. Folding it once would make the thickness 0.1 x 2 or 0.2 millimeters, twice would make it 0.1 x 22 or 0.4 millimeters, thrice is 0.1 x 23 or 0.8 millimeters, and so on.
If you fold it seven times the thickness will be 0.1 x 27 or 128 millimeters, or the size of a book with 128 pages. If you fold it 10 times, it will be as wide as your hand. If you fold it 23 times, the thickness is 0.1 x 223 millimeters or 0.8 kilometers.
The numbers start getting unbelievable as you go higher. Fold it 30 times, and you are in space 107 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Fold it 42 times (439,804 kilometers), and you are past the moon which is only 384,400 away. Fold it 51 times (225 million kilometers), and you are half way to Jupiter (588 million kilometers) or way past the Sun (149.6 million kilometers).
If you fold it 83 times, the thickness is 967 million kilometers or 102,226 light-years. and that’s wider than the Milky Way which is 100,000 light-years across. Now, if you can manage to fold it 103 times, you will reach a thickness of one billion quadrillion kilometers and that is 107 billion light-years while the observable universe is 93 billion light-years across. (1, 2)
4 In a room with 23 people, there is a 50% chance of two of them having the same birthday. If there are 70 people, it increases to 99.9%.
The birthday problem or the birthday paradox is a probability theory that determines the chances of two people having the same birthday among a certain number of people. According to English mathematician W.W. Rouse Ball, the problem was first discussed by Harold Davenport who was known for his extensive work on number theory.
The birthday problem is based on the mathematical principle known as the pigeonhole principle which states that if n objects are to be put in m containers, and n is a bigger number than m, then it follows to reason that at least one container will have more than one object.
Since there are only 366 possible birthdays, including February 29, and assuming that each day of the year has an equal chance of being a birthday, 50% probability is reached with 23 people and it just requires 70 people to reach 99.9% probability. A 100% is reached when there are 367 people. The birthday paradox is used in a cryptographic attack known as the birthday attack which uses the same model to reduce the complexity in finding ways to circumvent security. (source)
5 In 1956, a man who witnessed Abraham Lincoln’s assassination shared his experience on a TV game show known as I’ve Got A Secret.
On February 9, 1956, 96-year-old Samuel James Seymour appeared on an episode of the CBS TV panel show despite his failing health and a large swollen knot he received after falling down a flight of stairs. The program included rounds of guessing games in which the panel would try to find out the contestant’s “secret.”
The first to question was panelist Bill Cullen who, taking into account Seymour’s age, quickly figured out that the secret was indirectly connected to the Civil War and was of political nature involving an important political figure. Another panelist Jayne Meadows guessed that the political figure was Lincoln and that Seymour had witnessed the assassination.
On the night of April 14, 1865, five-year-old Seymour went to see Our American Cousin in Ford’s Theater with his father’s employer’s wife. They sat across the balcony from the one Lincoln was in, and Seymour saw him waving and smiling at people. Suddenly they heard a shot fired and a scream from the President’s box.
Seymour didn’t witness the actual assassination but saw Lincoln slumped forward in the seat and the assassin John Wilkes jumping off the balcony. He said that he was at first concerned about Wilkes who fell out of the balcony as he did not know Lincoln was shot or that it was Wilkes who did it. Seymour died two months after his appearance on the show. (source)
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