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A Michigan town once held a funeral for 30,000 pizzas.
On March 5, 1973, several hundred people gathered at a farm in tiny Ossineke, Michigan, to witness a burial they would remember for the rest of their lives. One local grocery store closed its doors so employees could attend; even Michigan Governor William G. Milliken dropped by to pay his respects. Was this a funeral for a native son who made good, or perhaps a beloved civic leader? No, it was a ceremony to bid arrivederci to some 30,000 frozen pizzas that may have been harboring dangerous toxins.

This bizarre scene stemmed from the discovery of swollen mushroom tins at Ohio's United Canning Company two months earlier. After FDA tests revealed the presence of bacteria that causes botulism, calls to United Canning's extended branch of customers eventually reached frozen-pizza maker Mario Fabbrini. When two test mice croaked after eating his mushroom pizza, Fabbrini believed he had no choice but to recall his wares from store shelves and swallow the estimated $60,000 in losses. Attempting the pizza equivalent of turning lemons into lemonade, he announced intentions for a grand "funeral," and arranged for a series of pickup trucks to dump his 30,000 unwanted mushroom pies into an 18-foot hole. After placing a flower garland on the grave — red gladioli to symbolize sauce, white carnations for cheese — Fabbrini served fresh (mushroom-free) pizza to anyone brave enough to partake.

Further tests later showed that the mice had died not from botulism, but from peritonitis, and it was unclear whether their deaths were pizza-related casualties. Sadly, the $250,000 Fabbrini later won in a lawsuit against United Canning and two other defendants wasn’t enough to fully revive his business, and Fabbrini sold the company in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, much like that sauce stain that never entirely disappears from your shirt, the story of the Great Michigan Pizza Funeral endures for those who know where to look.

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The concept of toasting comes from putting a piece of toast in one’s drink.
Today, cultures around the world have specific rules and phrases for the common toast. In South Korea, one accepts a drink with two hands, and in Italy, locking eyes is absolutely essential. But how exactly does the word “toast,” as in dry bread, figure into all of this? Well, it turns out dunking literal pieces of toast into a drink during celebrations in someone’s honor was commonplace centuries ago. Historians believe the practice came from the idea that the bread soaked up unwanted bitter or acidic sediments found in wine, thus making the drink more enjoyable. By the 18th century, the term “toast” somehow became more entwined with the person receiving the honor than the bread itself, which is also where the phrase “toast of the town” originates.

Although dipping crusty bread into your beverage isn’t a common custom today, you don’t have to look hard to find remnants of the practice in literature. In William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, the hard-drinking Falstaff quips, “Go, fetch me a quart of sack [wine]; put a toast in ’t,” a reference to the bread-dipping ritual. Lodowick Lloyd’s The Pilgrimage of Princes, written in 1573, also contains the passage “Alphonsus … tooke a toaste out of his cuppe, and cast it to the Dogge,” confirming that the alcohol-infused bread didn’t always go to waste after being dunked. Because general toasting in 16th- and 17th-century Europe was often an excuse to drink heavily, many temperance movements, including one in Puritan Massachusetts, banned the practice in the name of health. Of course, these bans didn’t stick, and today toasts — sans actual bread — are central to some of the biggest celebrations in our lives.

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What animal's venom is one of the most expensive on Earth?

Scorpion venom is among the most expensive liquids on the market.
Most rational people are inclined to leave scorpions well enough alone, given those stinger-tipped tails that administer venom capable of paralyzing their prey (and worse). Yet there are certain intrepid souls willing to brave the dangers and coax these arachnids into unleashing their toxins, for the simple reason that scorpion venom can sell for as much as $39 million per gallon.

Who actually dishes out the dough for this potent liquid? The medical industry, as venom from scorpions, spiders, vipers, and an array of other creatures has been found to provide compounds with surprising health benefits for humans. The venom of the deathstalker scorpion, for example, contains a peptide called chlorotoxin, which can pinpoint the location of aggressive brain tumors. Another species, the Diplocentrus melici, produces venom with 1,4-benzoquinone compounds that kill highly infectious bacteria, including the strains that cause tuberculosis.

Unsurprisingly, the monster dollar signs linked to this particular field have inspired a sub-industry of scorpion farmers and breeders, some of which are endangering scorpion populations. Insiders caution against getting involved for the money, though: For one thing, the venom has to be “milked” in absolutely sterile conditions; it’s a laborious process to do so, and the minute amounts that change hands between buyers and sellers aren’t going to pay off anyone’s mortgage. Additionally, many labs have turned to synthesized versions of the isolated compounds needed for their research.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Estimated number of venomous species on Earth

Length, in centimeters, of the largest modern-day scorpion

Age, in years, of the oldest scorpion fossils discovered
437 million

Studio albums released by German rockers the Scorpions

Antimatter is the most expensive substance on Earth.
If you think scorpion venom costs a pretty penny, then imagine the payment plan you’d need to meet the $2.7 quadrillion price tag for one gram of antimatter. As you may recall from high school physics, antimatter is a substance that has the opposite electric charge of the ordinary matter that fills up most of our universe; because naturally occurring antimatter detonates upon contact with regular matter, the only way to obtain it for a significant length of time is by way of high-speed collisions generated by immensely powerful and expensive particle accelerators (currently only available at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research). So what purpose does this elusive material serve? The observation of antimatter production has been used for medical radio imaging, and it’s been speculated that the energy created by matter-antimatter collisions could be harnessed for space travel. Otherwise, the practical applications are pretty minimal, as fascinating as it is for scientists to study.

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Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was partly based on a true story.
With apologies to anyone who already found The Birds terrifying while under the impression that it was wholly fictional: Alfred Hitchcock’s avian thriller was partly based on a true story. Said event took place on California’s Monterey Bay in August 1961, when “thousands of crazed seabirds” called sooty shearwaters were seen regurgitating anchovies and flying into objects before dying on the streets. The Master of Suspense happened to live in the area, and called the Santa Cruz Sentinel — which had reported on the strange goings-on in its August 18 edition — for more information. Long after his movie was released two years later, the bizarre event remained shrouded in mystery: What would inspire birds to act this way, and were they as malicious as they seemed in Hitchcock’s movie?

The truth ended up being both straightforward and a little sad. The scientific consensus is now that the birds were poisoned by toxic algae found in a type of plankton called Pseudo-nitzschia. The birds weren’t attacking anyone; they were disoriented and barely in control of their actions. That explanation is absent from Hitchcock’s thriller, which also drew inspiration from Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same name. (Hitchcock’s Rebecca was also a du Maurier adaptation.) A resounding success, The Birds is widely considered one of Hitchcock’s greatest works, alongside Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, and North by Northwest.

One of Hitchcock’s earliest films is lost.
A full 86% of American-made films from the Silent Era (1912-1929) are considered lost, meaning they don’t survive as complete works in their original form. Among them is one by the Master of Suspense himself: 1926’s The Mountain Eagle, the second feature he ever directed. Though some production stills remain, all prints of the Kentucky-set melodrama have been lost. Hitchcock completists have spent the better part of a century bemoaning this, but he wasn’t especially bothered by it — he once referred to it as “a very bad movie.” Even so, the British Film Institute has long included The Mountain Eagle on its 10 Most Wanted list of lost films.

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What animals received medals for bravery during WWII?

Thirty-two pigeons were awarded medals for valor during World War II.
Pigeons tend to get a bad rap among urban dwellers, but the birds have a distinguished history of service. Bred for their instinctive ability to find their way home from long distances, homing pigeons were trained as message-bearers as far back as in ancient Egypt. With their deployment by besieged Parisians during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the era of the military pigeon was underway.

By the time the United States entered World War I, homing pigeons were being used on both sides of the fighting for their ability to reliably deliver progress updates from planes, tanks, and mobile lofts on the front lines. While telephone and radio communications were more advanced heading into World War II, there were still times when conditions rendered such technologies useless, and the only solution was to strap a message to a pigeon and send it airborne through a hail of gunfire. Sometimes, a lone bird’s efforts saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers: One such instance occurred in Italy in 1943, when an American pigeon named G.I. Joe was dispatched to an Allied air base in the nick of time to call off the planned bombing of a village that had just been liberated by British troops.

That year, White Vision, Winkie, and Tyke became the first three of the 32 pigeons to receive the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Dickin Medal for exceptional wartime accomplishments. Although the award came into being too late to honor pigeon predecessors like Cher Ami and President Wilson, the more recent creation of the Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal in 2014 honored all the winged warriors and other service animals who served during World War I. And although the PDSA is based in the U.K., the Dickin Medal is awarded to animals in theaters of war around the world, and recognized worldwide.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Number of pigeons supplied by the United States to Allied forces in WWII

Year the U.S. Army pigeon service was disbanded

Speed, in miles per hour, of the fastest recorded pigeon

Price, in dollars, paid for racing pigeon New Kim in 2020
1.9 million

One cat has won the Dickin Medal.
That would be Simon, a tomcat who had the misfortune of getting caught in the strife of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. A crew mascot aboard the British HMS Amethyst, Simon sustained shrapnel injuries when the ship was attacked and cornered by communist forces on the Yangtze River. Not only did Simon get back on his feet and provide comfort to his rattled shipmates, but he also fought off the rats that attempted to raid the dwindling food supply as the crew waited for weeks for safe passage to freedom. Simon then became something of a celebrity after the Amethyst made news with its escape to Hong Kong, with a designated “cat officer” assigned to handle his fan mail. Sadly, the battle-scarred feline died shortly before he was scheduled to receive his Dickin Medal late in 1949, although TIME magazine provided an additional salute by featuring his picture on its obituary page.


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