Muhammad Ali Becomes Wali of Egypt (1805)

Four years after Ali, an Ottoman army commander, helped drive Napoleon from Ottoman-ruled Egypt, he was named wali—governor—of Egypt. He helped modernize Egypt and attempted to secure its independence. Though unsuccessful, his efforts established his progeny as the rulers of Egypt and Sudan for nearly 150 years and rendered Egypt a de facto independent state. He is thus considered one of the fathers of modern Egypt. How did Ali trick Egypt’s Mamluk leaders into walking into a massacre? Discuss
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Dennis Lee Hopper (1936)

Hopper was an American film actor. He appeared in two films with James Dean in the 1950s but achieved fame of his own after directing and starring in 1969’s Easy Rider. His career foundered in the 70s, but important roles in Apocalypse Now (1979) and Blue Velvet (1986) helped him revitalize his career in the 80s and 90s. In addition to acting, he was a noted artist. In 1983, he checked into rehab shortly after performing what daredevil stunt involving dynamite? Discuss
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The Nommo

The Nommo are ancestral spirits worshipped by the Dogon tribe of Mali. Recognized by the Dogon as the first living beings, they are usually described as amphibious, hermaphroditic, fish-like creatures. The Nommo bear resemblance to several mythical beings from other cultures, and there are parallels between their story and that of Jesus. What details about Nommo mythology—which have since led to controversy—were reportedly revealed to two French anthropologists by the Dogon in the 1940s? Discuss
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St. Brendan’s Day

This is the feast day of St. Brendan, who lived in the sixth century and is one of the most popular Irish saints and is alleged to be the author of Navigatio Brendani (the story of his journey to a land across the ocean). No one, including St. Brendan, knew where he had been, but a number of legends developed over the centuries. In 1977, Tim Severin built a boat out of leather as described in Navigatio and set out to follow St. Brendan’s instructions. He ended up in Newfoundland, giving credence to the theory that St. Brendan …read more

Junko Tabei Becomes First Woman to Summit Mount Everest (1975)

Tabei founded a climbing club for women in Japan in 1969 and, by 1972, was a recognized mountain climber. When Japanese newspaper and television companies sponsored an all-female expedition to climb Mount Everest, Tabei was one of the 15 women selected to go. In 1975, after months of training and preparation, the 35-year-old mother of two became the first woman to reach Everest’s 29,035-foot (8,850-m) summit. What disaster partway up the slope nearly ended the climb? Discuss
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Henry Jaynes Fonda (1905)

Henry Fonda was an American film actor who started out on Broadway. His role in the 1934 play The Farmer Takes a Wife led to a role in the film version, and more than 100 other films followed. He portrayed honest men in movies such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and won an Academy Award in 1982 for his last film, On Golden Pond, made with his daughter, Jane. Married five times, he was also the father of actor Peter Fonda. Whose murder did Fonda witness as a teen? Discuss
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US Department of Agriculture Is Created (1862)

US President Abraham Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture, which he referred to as the “people’s department,” at a time when most Americans were farmers. It played a key role in the survival of many during the Depression, and today it continues to ensure that those in need receive food. It also aids farmers, inspects meat and dairy products, oversees food stamp and school lunch programs, and administers national forests. Before Lincoln, the Agricultural Division was part of what office? Discuss
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St. Dymphna’s Day

According to legend, St. Dymphna fled with her priest to Geel, Belgium to escape her pagan father’s demand for an incestuous marriage. St. Dymphna came to be known as the patron saint of the insane, and for centuries mental patients were brought to the site of her relics in Geel. Today there is a large, well-equipped sanatorium for the mentally ill in Geel. On May 15 special church services are held and a religious procession moves through the streets carrying a stone from St. Dymphna’s alleged tomb—a relic that at one time was applied to patients as …read more


Random processes are repeating processes whose outcomes follow no describable deterministic pattern. In mathematical, social, and religious settings, the term randomness refers to an innate “fairness” or lack of order or bias. Although randomness is an objective property, people often question whether a process is truly random. Many superstitions rest on the idea that seemingly random processes are actually governed by a hidden set of rules. How is randomness tied to the notion of free will? Discuss
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The Great Chain of Being

This classical and Western medieval conception of the order of the universe is composed of myriad hierarchical links that organize all things—from the most basic, matter-based elements to purely spiritual beings—into a structured system. Each level of the hierarchy moves closer to perfection, incorporating the positive attributes of the previous link as well as at least one other. Angels surpass humans, and they, in turn, are surpassed by God or the “prime mover.” What is at the lowest level? Discuss
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Rockefeller Foundation Established (1913)

The Rockefeller Foundation is a private philanthropic organization established by John D. Rockefeller to promote “the well-being of mankind throughout the world.” Its first grant was issued to the American Red Cross, and over the years, it has donated more than $14 billion in grants to fund medical research, education, agriculture, and work in a number of other fields. Before and during WWII, it worked to bring scholars and artists persecuted by the Nazis to the US. Who was saved in this way? Discuss
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Definition: (noun) A mischievous, troublesome, or unruly person.
Synonyms: devil, heller.
Usage: He chased the young hellions out of his yard, but the boys had already trampled his wife’s precious flowerbeds, and the blooms could not be salvaged.
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Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor (1316)

Charles IV was a 14th-century Holy Roman Emperor, German king, and king of Bohemia. He was educated at the French court and fought the English at Crécy, where the heroic death of his father, John of Luxemburg, made him king of Bohemia. Pope Clement VI, to whom he had promised far-reaching concessions, helped secure his election as anti-king to Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV. After the death of Louis in 1347, Charles claimed the crown. He is considered the father of what modern-day nation? Discuss
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Carabao Festival

The Carabao Festival is a feast in honor of San Isidro Labrador (St. Isidore the Farmer), the patron saint of Filipino farmers, held in Pulilan, Bulacan province, the Philippines. The feast also honors the carabao, or water buffalo, the universal beast of burden of the Philippines. Farmers decorate their carabao with flowers to parade with the image of San Isidro. The festival is also marked by exploding firecrackers and the performance of the Bamboo Dance, where dancers represent the tinikling bird, a menace to the rice crop. Discuss
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Petrosomatoglyphs are naturally-occurring or man-made representations of human or animal body parts that are found incised in rock. Footprints are the most common form of petrosomatoglyph. The ancient images, some of which date back to megalithic times, were once considered important symbols and were used in both religious and secular ceremonies. Throughout history, these imprints have been attributed to numerous figures, including the devil, Jesus, the prophet Mohammed, and what legendary king? Discuss
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Children Report Visions of the Virgin Mary in Fátima, Portugal (1917)

In 1917, three children were herding sheep in Fátima when, according to their story, the Virgin Mary appeared to them. They claimed that she continued to appear to them on the 13th of every month, relaying messages and prophesies. Word of the visions spread, and at one point, the children were arrested. Then, on October 13, thousands reported seeing the sun spin in the sky near Fátima, which became a pilgrimage site. Two of the children died before the age of 12. What happened to the third? Discuss
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Maria Theresa of Austria (1717)

Maria Theresa became Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Bohemia and Hungary upon the death of her father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. Lacking a male heir, he had initiated the Pragmatic Sanction providing for female heirs to inherit the Habsburg property and throne. She married Emperor Francis I and bore him 16 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Two of their sons became emperors, and two of their daughters became queens. One queen was Marie Antoinette of France. Who was the other? Discuss
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The Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, is an enormous poetic opus compiled by the Persian poet Ferdowsi around 1000 CE. Considered the first great work of modern Persian literature, the Shahnameh recounts the mythical and historical past of Iran, from the creation of the world until the Islamic conquest in the 7th century. With 62 stories, 990 chapters, and 60,000 rhyming couplets, the Shahnameh is much longer than what well known ancient epic? Discuss
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Definition: (noun) A sleeveless garment similar to an apron, worn especially by small girls as a dress or an overdress.
Synonyms: jumper, pinny.
Usage: Dolly came into the yard sobbing and crying, with her little blue frock and white pinafore spattered all over with mud.
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Priest Attempts to Assassinate the Pope in Portugal (1982)

Almost a year to the day after Pope John Paul II was shot by a Turkish gunman, a priest named Juan María Fernández y Krohn attacked the pontiff with a bayonet. It was long thought that the would-be assassin was restrained before he could wound the pope, but a former aide now claims that the pope was indeed injured. During his trial, Krohn accused the pope of being a secret communist agent in league with the USSR. How long was his prison sentence? Discuss
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Gustav I of Sweden (1496?)

Considered the father of modern Sweden, Gustav I was king of Sweden and founder of the Vasa dynasty. A senator’s son, he became a leader in the rebellion against the Danes, who controlled most of Sweden. In 1523—having won Sweden’s independence—he was elected king. He was an autocratic ruler and built a strong monarchy and an efficient administration. Aside from his temper, he was known for his love of music and sly wit. How did being beaten with a baking implement supposedly save his life? Discuss
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Bun Bang Fai

Bun Bang Fai is a rain ceremony celebrated in Laos and northeastern Thailand. In Laos, this is one of the country’s wildest celebrations, with music and irreverent dances, processions, and merrymaking. The celebration ends with the firing of bamboo rockets into the sky, supposedly prompting the heavens to commence the rainy season. In Thailand, the celebration is usually on the second weekend in May and is especially festive in Yasothon, with villagers shooting off huge rockets. Before the shooting, there are beauty parades, folk dances, and ribald entertainment. Discuss
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