The things we consider ordinary and part of our everyday lives are often the things that have amazing stories. Everything we use took years, even decades and centuries, to become their modern versions. During the time of their discovery or invention, they were probably hailed as amazing changers of the future. and change they did. Life might have been mighty inconvenient without these now seemingly insignificant things. Here are some such interesting facts about everyday objects that we use in our everyday lives.
1. Crayons can be used as candles during an emergency. Each crayon can burn for 10 to 15 minutes.
The earliest concept of crayon dates back to a thousand years ago when artists would combine pigment with beeswax and burn it to fix an image in place, a technique known as “encaustic painting.” This method was widely used by Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and even some indigenous people of the Philippines. Crayons are believed to have their origins in the European practice of mixing charcoal and oil to make cylindrical-shaped pieces that could be held in the hand.
Modern crayons are made of paraffin wax and pigment. Several DIY bloggers a few years ago began writing about how they can be used as a candle when you don’t have one. The paper wrapped around the crayon works as a wick, and it can burn for around 15 minutes. Some DIY-ers even use them as pigment for making candles. Crayola has issued a statement that they do not recommend it as crayons were not tested or approved for such use. (1, 2)
2. Barcode scanners don’t scan the black lines in the barcode. They read the white spaces between them.
There are essentially three types of barcode scanners: those that use a light source and a photodiode such as pen scanners and laser scanners, CCDs (charge coupled devices) that employ an array of hundreds of sensors, and camera-based readers which use image-processing technology. The common theme among the scanners with light sensors is that they can only read the white spaces between the black bars because the light is reflected off the white area and is absorbed by the black area. This generates a waveform with highs (white) and lows (black) that is decoded just like Morse code. (source)
3. The normal office stapler has a second setting. The metal plate at the bottom can be rotated so that the other pair of grooves on it bend the staple legs outward providing a less-permanent binding that could be easily removed.
The modern, most commonly used stapler was made in 1941 and it has two settings. The stapling plate, also known as the anvil, can be rotated 180o to use the stapler in either the reflexive or sheer setting. In the reflexive setting, the anvil is dented in such a way that the legs of the staple get folded towards each other securing the papers strongly. In the sheer setting, the legs get folded outwards almost making a straight line. The papers are loosely bound and the staple can be easily removed. Some staplers only have the first setting as the second setting is rarely used. (source)
4. There are 177,147 ways to knot a necktie.
In 1999, two mathematicians, Thomas Fink and Yong Mao from the University of Cambridge, calculated the number of knots that can be used for men’s neckties was 85. However, they made the calculations under two main assumptions – that you would only tuck at the end of all the folding, and that all knots would be covered by a flat stretch of the tie fabric. They also put a limit on the number of winding moves at eight.
Later, another mathematician, Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, put the number at 177,147. He became interested in this tie-knotting business after watching a YouTube tutorial on replicating the intricate, exotic-looking knot worn by the Merovingian as shown in The Matrix Reloaded film. Instead of eight winding moves, Vejdemo-Johansson chose 11 moves. The Eldredge knot or Trinity knot, which the mathematician himself uses every day, requires the same number of winding moves. (source)
5. Peeling Scotch tape in a vacuum generates enough radiation to X-ray human bones.
When ripped, scratched, or crushed, some materials generate light as the chemical bonds break and the electrical charges are separated and reunified. This optical phenomenon is known as “triboluminescence.” It can be observed when you bite on a Wint-O-Green LifeSavers candy in the dark as the wintergreen oil, which is fluorescent, converts ultraviolet light into blue light. Diamonds also fluoresce blue or red sometimes when rubbed, ground, or sawed, and minerals like quartz emit light when rubbed together.
The same thing happens when a pressure-sensitive tape such as Scotch tape is pulled away from the roll in a vacuum. It was first observed by Soviet scientists in 1953, and the generation of X-rays was further studied in 2008 by a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, led by physicist Seth Putterman. They managed to take the X-ray of one of the postdoc’s fingers on a dental X-ray film. (source)
6. In the 1950s, doughnut shops were among the only few eateries open late into the night. This is why doughnuts became associated with the police as the shops were a perfect place to take a break, grab a snack, or even fill out paperwork during the night shift.
In those days, doughnut shops were some of the only shops open during the night to prepare for the next day’s morning rush. Unless the police packed themselves a snack from home or got really lucky finding an all-night diner, doughnuts were almost the only choice they had if they got hungry. The doughnut shop owners were also quite happy to receive the police and would often boast about their customers. So, officers had to be reminded in some cases not to accept any free doughnuts to avoid any display of favoritism.
The association between the police and doughnuts has been parodied in movies like Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol and the TV series Twin Peaks. The video game Neuromancer features a “Donut World” shop which only serves policemen. There is a real-life doughnut shop called Cops & Doughnuts in Claire, Michigan which is owned and operated by current and former cops. (1, 2)
7. Listerine was first developed as a surgical antiseptic. It was also sold as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea.
In 1865, an English doctor named Joseph Lister demonstrated that using carbolic acid on surgical dressings reduced the chances of infection significantly. Following that, Joseph Lawrence, a doctor from St. Louis, developed a formula which he named “Listerine” in honor of Lister. He hoped to promote it as a general germicide and collaborated with pharmacist Jordan Wheat Lambert who started the Lambert Pharmaceutical Company to manufacture it.
At first, Listerine was sold a cure for gonorrhea and a floor cleaner. Though Lambert began promoting the product for oral care in 1895, it wasn’t until the 1920s following aggressive marketing campaigns that it became famous as a mouthwash. They pitched it as a cure for “chronic halitosis,” a medical term that most people were unfamiliar with, and the advertising was directed mostly at young women and men. According to the book Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, bad breath wasn’t considered such a catastrophe until then. (source)
8. When rubber is vulcanized, all the molecules become connected through sulfur and turn into one giant molecule. So, the sole of your sneaker is made up of just one molecule.
In 1839, while experimenting to find ways to make rubber more practical at the Eagle India Rubber Company in Massachusetts, Charles Goodyear accidentally discovered that sulfur and rubber, when heated together, caused the rubber to vulcanize. Sulfur molecules have eight atoms of sulfur arranged in a ring-like structure. When heated with rubber, the rings break and fragments of sulfur molecules get connected with the polyisoprene molecules, a process known as crosslinking. The result is that all polyisoprene molecules that before then had been separate now become a mega-molecule.
However, vulcanized rubber cannot be molded. So, molding and heating must be done at the same time. This means each component of your shoe that can be separated without cutting is a single, but extremely big, molecule of vulcanized rubber. (source)
9. The majority of pencils made in the US are painted yellow because back in the 19th century, high-quality graphite came from Siberia which borders China. Since the yellow color is associated with royalty in China, pencil companies made them yellow to show high quality and class.
The Yellow Emperor, also known as the “Yellow God,” is the third of ancient China’s mythical emperors. Because of this, the color yellow has long been connected to royalty. Only the royal family was allowed to wear the color which eventually became a symbol of happiness, wisdom, and glory.
In 1890, the Austria-Hungary company L. & C. Hardtmuth Company introduced its new brand of pencils, the Koh-I-Noor, named after the famous diamond. When the graphite deposit of Borrowdale, England that was discovered in 1564 ran out, Hardtmuth began sourcing its graphite from Siberia which shares its border with China. The company used this to market its pencils as the world’s best through the brand name and the color yellow to associate with Chinese royalty. Other companies followed suit, painting the wood yellow and brand names with Oriental references. (1, 2)
10. Orange juice tastes bad when you drink it right after brushing your teeth because of a foaming agent called sodium laurel sulfate which blocks your sweet receptors.
Most toothpastes we use contain a substance called sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a surfactant found in many beauty and household products that creates foam when you brush. The SLS in your toothpaste also does two other things when you brush. One, it blocks the sweet receptors on your tongue so you won’t be able to taste the sweetness of whatever you eat or drink. Two, it breaks down phospholipids, the fatty compounds that make bitter things taste less bitter. Citrus juices have a little bit of bitter taste. and this is what you taste when you drink them right after you brush your teeth. (source)