2017-12-01:
Cosmic Latte

Welcome to the 2017 edition of the Advent Calendar of Curiosities! This year marks the calendar's 6th anniversary, wheee! Also, I'm switching to English to allow more people to read these entries. You can find all prior content on the main page! Subscribe to the feed, or simply follow me on Twitter to be notified of new content. Enjoy! ^_^

Cosmic Latte is the average color of the universe. It was determined in 2002 by astronomers from Johns Hopkins University, when they did a spectral analysis of different galaxies. They calculated that all light in the universe adds up to a slightly beigeish white.

In a poll ran by the scientists, the name Cosmic Latte won against suggestions like Big Bang Beige, Astronomer Almond, and Skyvory. Its hexadecimal RGB notation is #fff8e7.

2017-12-02:
Black MIDI

You might have heard of the MIDI format. It's short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and among other things, it can be used to describe melodies. In 2009, some people in Japan started to use the format to compose what they called Black MIDI songs – which contain melodies with absurdly many individual notes, often in the millions.

The name stems from the fact that, if you would display the song in classical music notation, the sheet would look completely black.

Some notable examples:

Fun fact: The MIDI standard allows up to about 93 trillion notes in one song, and people have actually composed songs which reach this limit, but due to their sheer size, they cannot to be played back or recorded on current computers.

2017-12-03:
Kingdom of Talossa

The Kingdom of Talossa is one of the oldest micronations – it was founded it 1979 by the then 14-year-old Robert Ben Madison, and at first was confined to his bedroom.

Since then, the nation has claimed a territory of 14 square kilometers. It has 213 active citizens, a flag, and even its own language, Talossan, also designed by Madison. With about 35000 root words, Talossan is said to be one of the most detailed constructed languages in the world.

Talossa is not recognized by the UN or any other nation.

2017-12-04:
The Infinite Corridor

The Infinite Corridor in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a hallway connecting its main buildings, and serving as a direct route between the eastern and the western campus. It's notable because it is 251 meters long, and filled with bulletin boards.

The corridor has been used to demonstrate the speed of light in a simple experimental setup, to model highway traffic (or rather, foot traffic), and is often involved in practical jokes – an April Fools' Day post suggested that the corridor floor would be replaced with a moving walkway.

Twice per year, the corridor lines up with the plane of the ecliptic, so that its entirety is filled with sunlight, an event celebrated under the name MIThenge. There is a special MIThenge etiquette, including rules like "Don't block the corridor" and "Don't hurt your eyes".

2017-12-05:
Denmark Strait Cataract

The Denmark Strait is the name of the 300 km-wide waterway between Iceland and Greenland. It features the world's highest waterfall, the Denmark Strait Cataract – but it doesn't draw much touristic attention, as it is completely underwater.

It is 3500 meters high, and it's created by the fact that the water on the eastern side of the strait is much colder than the western side, causing it to flow down the underwater terrain. It is estimated that its flow rate exceeds 5 million cubic meters per second.

2017-12-06:
Biotic Baking Brigade

The Biotic Baking Brigade is a loose, international group of activists known for throwing pies at famous people, like Bill Gates, the Swedish king Carl Gustaf, or Monsanto's CEO Robert Shapiro. Members follow a left-wing philosophy, with members also active in ecology, social justice, gay rights, animal rights, and feminist movements. Throwing pies at people is supposed to ridicule and humanize them.

The group is also known as Pâtissiers sans Frontières (confectioners without borders), and they have mottos like "The Pie is the Limit", "Torte statt Worte", or "Speaking Pie to Power".

Fun fact: Wikipedia contains a list of well-known people who have been pied.

2017-12-07:
Dotsies

Dotsies is a font designed by Craig Muth in 2012 that only consists of square dots. Each letter of the Latin alphabet is a column of at most five such dots, and words become pixel patterns.

The font is designed to be space-efficient, easy to type with one hand, and to allow quick pattern recognition of common words.

The homepage, dotsies.org contains a nice "tutorial" text, which gradually transitions from Dotsie-arranged Latin characters to pure Dotsies font.

2017-12-08:
Invisible Pink Unicorn

The Invisible Pink Unicorn is the goddess of a parody religion – a unicorn which combines the mutually exclusive properties of being pink and invisible at the same time.

It was first mentioned in the alt.atheism newsgroup in 1990, to satirize the fact that it's impossible to disprove the existence of deities outside of common human perception.

Followers of the IPU believe that it "raptures" socks, which is the reason why they go missing. The IPU punishes disbelievers by poking them with her horn – a phenomenon usually, but incorrectly, attributed to mosquitos. There's also a huge controversy on which kind of pizza the IPU likes. Everyone seems to agree on pineapple, though.

A commonly used ritual phrase is "Blessed Be Her Holy Hooves" (bbhhh).

2017-12-09:
Wilhelm scream

The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect, first used in the 1951 movie Distant Drums. It has since been used in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Disney cartoons, and many other movies, TV shows, and video games.

The original use was for a character getting bit by an alligator, and dragged underwater. The third movie to use this sound effect was The Charge at Feather River, where a character named Wilhelm gets shot in his leg with an arrow - this is where the name comes from.

Today, the sound is still used very often, and serves as an in-joke among movie lovers and creators. If you haven't noticed it before, I promise you will now! :P

2017-12-10:
Self-referential aptitude test

The self-referential aptitude test (SRAT) is a list of 20 multiple-choice questions, many of which are referring to each other. It was designed by James Propp, a professor of mathematics at the University of Massachusetts Lowellt.

Among them is this question, for example:

19. The answer to this question is:
   (A) A
   (B) B
   (C) C
   (D) D
   (E) E

Even though, the test has a unique solution (and in fact, this knowledge is really helpful for finding the answer to some questions).

2017-12-11:
ASMR

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a pleasurable, euphoric physical sensation characterized by a tingling of the head and scalp. It's also being referred to as "brain orgasms", and it's typically triggered by soft voices, cracking or crinkling, personal attention, listening to repetitive sounds, or watching people perform mundane tasks. There's a rather large community of people producing ASMR videos with the purpose of inducing this response.

As there are few scientific studies on this topic, there's not yet a plausible explanation for this phenomenon.

2017-12-12:
Numberwang

Numberwang is a recurring sketch in the British sketch comedy television show That Mitchell and Webb Look. It's a fictional game show, where two contestants shout out numbers and perform other silly tasks, until the host declares "Numberwang!". See for yourself:

There are also some spin-offs:

2017-12-13:
Dagen H

Dagen H, ("H day", wherein H stands for the Swedish högertrafikomläggningen, "the right-hand traffic diversion"), was the day on which Sweden switched from left-hand traffic to driving on the right. It was by far the largest logistical event in Sweden's history.

The switch was scheduled for 3 September 1967, at 05:00. All non-essential traffic was banned for 4 hours before this point, which were used to reconfigure traffic signs, reconstruct bus stops. All remaining traffic had to come to a halt by 4:50, carefully change to the right side of the road, and was then allowed to continue at 05:00.

Special gloves where handed out, the left one of them painted in a deep red, to remind drivers to stay on the correct side. Special, hexagonal yellow-and-blue signs with an "H" were put up everywhere for the same reason.

Why did Sweden decide for the change in the first place? All of its neighbors had right-hand side traffic, including Norway and Finland, which complicated crossing the borders. Also, most Swedes had cars with the steering wheel at the left, which led to many accidents in small passageways. However, the change was widely unpopular, in a referendum prior to the change 83 percent voted against driving on the right.

Iceland switched to driving on the right in 1986.

2017-12-14:
Zombie ants

In the tropical forests of Thailand, there's a fungus with the scientific name ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which has a very special mechanism for spreading its spores:

It infects ants, which then change their behavior in a drastic way: The ants leave their nests, and look for areas suitable for fungal growth in terms of temperature and humidity. This phase of being controlled by the fungus lasts 4-10 days. After that, the ant dies, the fungus breaks out of the ant's head and releases spores.

Creepy.

2017-12-15:
Arecibo message

The Arecibo message was an interstellar radio message, sent in the direction of the star cluster M13 in the constellation of the Hercules in 1974. It was designed in the hopes an extraterrestrial intelligence would be able to decipher it, and learn some basic information about humanity and the planet Earth.

The message consisted of 1679 binary digits, a number chosen because it is the product of two prime numbers, allowing it to be assembled to a rectangle in only one way.

The parts of the message are as follows:

It will take approximately 25000 years for the message to arrive at its intended destination - and an additional 25000 years for any reply.