Google Maps shares a feature with this ancient video game

Google Maps shares a feature with this ancient video game

From Interconnected: "Thirty years ago, a company called Etak released the first commercially available computerized navigation system for automobiles. Spearheaded by an engineer named Stan Honey and bankrolled by Nolan Bushnell, the cofounder of Atari, the company’s Navigator was ahead of its time. Benj Edwards, a technology historian, discovered that the dart-shaped arrow that Etak used for location is the same arrow that Google Maps uses to show your current location. But Edwards' research went even further back: He discovered that an engineer who worked in a nearby office had shown the team a vector-based video game called Asteroids, and Etak's on-screen representation of the car in its naviation system wound up using a vector triangle almost identical to the ship from Asteroids. Google then adopted something very similar for the car in its next-generation car navigation system product."

Why hearing "The Stars and Stripes Forever" sometimes made people run for the exits

Circus | Definition, History, Acts, & Facts | Britannica

From Now I Know: "Circuses, historically, haven’t been the safest form of entertainment. Wild animals, random pyrotechnics, people on tightropes, etc. A loose animal or a fire can not only put guests in harm’s way, but once customers begin to react, others may panic — and that’s a recipe for disaster. To combat this, circuses had to find a way to let everyone know that something was urgently wrong, without alerting the audience. Music became an easy solution. Circuses back then often had bands that regaled patrons with all sorts of tunes, and everyone could hear the band. At some point, the management of one of the circuses decided to use the band as an alert system — if the band played a previously specified tune, that was a signal to the circus personnel that something bad was happening. And the song they chose? “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” The idea of using “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as the so-called “Disaster March” spread throughout the circus industry." 

Even some Australians don't know that female kangaroos have three vaginas

From Asutralian Geographic: "Kangaroos. They’re a national icon. A symbol of Australia. So, why then, do most of us not know that they have three vaginas!? I only found this out a week ago when a colleague brought the bizarre fact to my attention. Embarrassed by this gap in my knowledge, I reached out to macropod expert, Dr Mark Eldridge, Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Museum. “It’s not widely known,” Mark assures me. Where kangaroos differ from humans s that instead of having a single vagina and uterus, they have two completely separate pairs of vagini and uteri. Incredibly, the third vagina only forms when a female kangaroo becomes pregnant, creating a more direct route for a joey to be born. It then usually remains open and stays there as a third vagina for all consequent births, so they end up with three vaginas.”

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He deserted the army and then became a pioneering archeologist and a reluctant spy

From the British Library: "What do an East India Company Army deserter, an American explorer from Kentucky, and an archaeological expert on Afghanistan who wrote his name in the caves at Bamiyan have in common?  They are actually one and the same person.  Charles Masson, as he came to be known, is an intriguing character, a pioneer explorer, archaeologist, and numismatist, a reluctant spy, and an expert on Afghanistan. Born James Lewis in London in 1800, Masson enlisted in the East India Company’s Bengal Artillery in 1821, deserted in 1827, and - in an attempt to avoid the death penalty - changed his name, began his travels and explorations through Northern India and Afghanistan, and pretended to be an American. He did groundbreaking archaeological research, then was unmasked as a deserter, but got a pardon in exchange for intelligence work for the British, imprisonment, and returned to London in 1842."

The child-eating "wampus cat" that is said to prowl the American South

Beginning in the 20th century, the hunt for the deadly wampus cat was on.

From Atlas Obscura: "The Wampus Cat appeared in the American South, seemingly out of nowhere, at the turn of the 20th century. In the newspapers of the day, the frightening figment was, for most, nothing but a name associated with feral violence. In those early days of the 1900s, “wampus cat” was an epithet for the local ne’er do well in Arkansas and a mascot for an amateur baseball team outside of Houston. The weird phrase seemed to originate in Scottish: “Wampish” was slang for waving one’s arms about. In the US, “cattywampus” had come to mean “askew,” but some in the mid-19th century also used it as a catchall for a mischievous, imaginary animal. In Texas, though, the beast became real. As the story went, “the great Wampus cat” had first been seen on the Oklahoma border around 1900, “the specter of some huge bobcat of past ages” that “shows up only on semi-moonlight nights in the summertime.”

How a washerwoman could become a queen in Paris in the 1800s

From Freelance History: "In 19th century Paris, there existed a boisterous group of hardworking women who played a crucial role in keeping Parisians clean and presentable. Nearly one hundred thousand washerwomen worked either in the brick-and-mortar laundries across the city, or in wooden constructions floating on the river called bateaux-lavoirs. Life as a washerwoman was exhausting. They rose before dawn and labored twelve to fifteen hours a day, six days a week, with no sick leave or paid vacation. Once a year, though, Paris treated them like royalty. During the feasts of Mid-Lent, the streets exploded with the frenzy of carnival, and with great pomp and circumstance, the women of each lavoir elected a queen, and the new sovereigns, with their escort, paraded on the boulevards in elaborate floats. Much drinking and merry-making accompanied the procession. This custom survived into the 20th century when it was interrupted by the Second World War and it was unfortunately never fully revived. "

Sister Rosetta Tharpe helped give birth to rock and roll in the 1930s

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as "serendipity engines," such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg's Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis's Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton's The Browser, Clive Thompson's Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy's Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova's The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me at mathew @ mathewingram dot com