June 12, 2023

34 things I’ve learned in my 34th year

This week, I celebrate the completion of my 34th lap around the sun. As anybody who has spent time with me would know, I’ve spent a good deal of those years learning, retaining, and sharing a host of (mostly useless) facts. Some people find it endearing. Some don't.

To celebrate this birthday, I’ll share 34 of the things that I’ve learned this year. If you want more profound thoughts and advice, go check out my graduation post from a few weeks back – these are significantly less actionable.

  1. There are more $100 bills than $1 bills. Before about ten years ago, the $100 was in third place, after both $20s and $1s.
  2. Souvenirs are really old. Ancient Roman tourists would collect replica figurines and statues from around their empire.
  3. Movies are called that because the pictures move. The same way that pictures that talk were once called talkies.
  4. Albums are called that because music used to be sold in a literal album of records – each record could only hold one track.
  5. Songs need to have lyrics so that they can be sung. If there are no lyrics, it’s considered a piece of music or composition.
  6. In medieval Europe, nutmeg was thought to ward off the plague… and it might have actually worked a little bit since nutmeg has compounds that act as pesticides.
  7. Wheels are not allowed in National Wilderness Areas. No wheelbarrows. No bikes. No game carts. The only exception is a wheelchair.
  8. Vitamin C is named that way because it was the third vitamin discovered.
  9. Early gunpowder was made using urine. It was believed that urine from heavy wine drinkers would yield a superior product. Also prized was urine from clergymen, particularly a bishop.
  10. In 1970, half of all homes built in the United States were made in a factory. Today, it’s more like 3%.
  11. The production of silk is called sericulture. Legend has it that silkworms and mulberry seeds (the source of their food) were smuggled to Europe in a hollowed-out cane.
  12. The typical Manhattan block is 200 feet long, with a 60-foot street in between. Blocks in Salt Lake City are 600 feet long with 120-foot streets.
  13. Tipping really is getting more intense. According to Square, tipped transactions are recently up 17% at full-service restaurants and 16% at quick-service places.
  14. Lead gets stored in your bones and then gets released as bone density decreases with age and conditions like osteoporosis. The cohort with the highest lead exposure, Gen X, is just now beginning to age into these conditions.
  15. There was once a bug in iOS where the weather app refused to show 69 degrees. It could have been intentional, but the more likely explanation was a rounding error converting from Celsius.
  16. Every day, more people ride the NYC subway than take a plane in the entire United States.
  17. Apes at the zoo have a favorite holiday: Halloween. It’s the one day of the year that all the people staring at them on the other side of the glass look different and interesting.
  18. The state of Wyoming has just 2 escalators. The numbers are fuzzy, but the state of Vermont might have 4, and Montana has about 6.
  19. Players have gotten so good at competitive Tetris that they had to modify the game to make it more difficult after the highest level. They call it the “super killscreen.”
  20. Since 2010, Denmark has been home to the “world’s best” restaurant 6 times, and has taken the second spot 3 more times. This is partially thanks to 5.4 billion euros from the Nordic Council of Ministers earmarked to build tourism and cultural identity, using food as one of its main drivers.
  21. Part of the reason that Thai restaurants have exploded in popularity over the past couple of decades is that the Thai government has used food as a “gastrodiplomacy,” developing programs to help emigrants establish restaurants around the world.
  22. It wasn’t just childhood whining: Brussels sprouts really do taste better today than they did a generation ago, thanks to selective breeding. Also, Brussels sprouts are the same species as cabbage, collard greens, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli.
  23. There are only 23 lesbian bars in the United States. In 1980, there were roughly 200.
  24. With a pair of recent wins over the Dodgers, the Yankees are the only team in baseball history to have a cumulative winning record against every other team in the sport over the regular season.
  25. A baseball diamond isn’t really a diamond. Because second base doesn’t line up in the same way as first or third, the resulting shape is a “convex kite.”
  26. Joining a fraternity decreases a student’s GPA by 0.25 points on average. But it increases their future income by approximately 36%.
  27. Costco Connection, the free magazine for Costco members, is America’s third most widely circulated magazine.
  28. Ice cream might be a health food. A 2018 study found that eating half a cup of ice cream daily was associated with a lower risk of heart problems among people with diabetes. The frozen dairy dessert has a lower glycemic index than brown rice.
  29. 8 of the 25 best-selling books of 2022 were all by one person: Colleen Hoover. (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which came out in 1969, sold more than 738,000 copies.)
  30. By the time the first animals ever walked on land, the Appalachian Mountains were already 100 million years old. Geologically, they are the same mountain range as the mountains you’ll find in Ireland, Norway, and Morocco.
  31. English is one of only a handful of languages that regularly uses a thesaurus.
  32. Sweat comes from our blood. So does saliva. Weight is lost through exhalation.
  33. There are two shapes of popcorn, called butterfly and mushroom. The rounder “mushroom” varietal is most frequently used for thicker toppings, like chocolate or caramel.
  34. The first ever completely CGI sequence in a movie appears in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, one of my favorite films. (Also, the two lead characters, Kirk and Khan, never actually share a scene together.)


About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

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