Weird Universe Blog — January 13, 2021

Radioactive Spark Plugs

Firestone came out with radioactive spark plugs in 1940. The idea was that radioactive material (polonium) would improve the electrical conductivity of the spark plugs, resulting in better fuel combustion. More details from the Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum:

Other than the slightly improved performance when the plugs were first installed, their benefits were questionable. The short half-life of polonium-210 (138 days) meant that the enhanced performance was only temporary. It also put dealers in the uncomfortable position of having to decide what to do after unsold plugs sat on the shelf for extended periods. Furthermore, the inevitable accumulation of deposits on the surface of the plugs’ electrodes as the vehicle burned fuel would attenuate the alpha particles and prevent them from ionizing the gas.

Monrovia News-Post - Mar 27, 1941

Posted By: Alex - Wed Jan 13, 2021 - Comments (2)
Category: Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters | 1940s | Cars

January 12, 2021

Shaver’s Golf

Shaver's golf = a game to find out the smallest number of strokes with which you can shave your face.

Minneapolis Star - Aug 6, 1939

A useful aid for this game would be the "stroke-counting razor" invented by engineers at Gillette a few years ago. Using this tool, Gillette determined that the average man takes about 170 strokes to shave his face. So, in the game of shaver's golf, I guess that 170 would be considered par.

Posted By: Alex - Tue Jan 12, 2021 - Comments (4)
Category: Games | Sports | Hair and Hairstyling

Peanuts Cast Does “Roundabout”

This is the newest in a series, others to be found here.

Posted By: Paul - Tue Jan 12, 2021 - Comments (0)
Category: Music | Homages, Pastiches, Tributes and Borrowings | Cartoons | 1970s

January 11, 2021

Stockpiling toilet paper - 1993

July 1993: A pro-timber group urged consumers to stockpile toilet paper in order to deplete store supplies and thereby raise awareness of the importance of wood and paper products. "You can help by buying one or two (or twenty!) cases of toilet paper," its newsletter declared.

Little did they know that, 27 years later, a pandemic would transform America into a nation of toilet paper stockpilers!

Longview Daily News - July 15, 1993

Posted By: Alex - Mon Jan 11, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Bathrooms | 1990s

Father Christmas Training School

It's still kinda the holiday season, right? Orthodox Xmas was just a few days ago!

Posted By: Paul - Mon Jan 11, 2021 - Comments (0)
Category: Holidays | School | United Kingdom

January 10, 2021

Predicting war by mathematics

At an August 1938 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Lewis F. Richardson attempted to use mathematics to predict the likelihood of war:

The professor reduced to beautiful differential equations general tendencies common to all nations — resentment of defiance, the suspicion that defense is concealed aggression, response to imports by exports, restraint on armaments by the difficulty of paying for them, and, last, grievances and their irrationality.

He concluded there was "no chance of war," which proved to be a somewhat inaccurate prediction.

The Alexandria Town Talk - Sep 27, 1938 offers some more info on what Richardson was up to:

Richardson viewed war instead in Tolstoyan fashion, as a massive phenomenon governed by forces akin to the forces of nature, over which individuals have little or no control. Accordingly, he ignored all those intricacies of diplomatic-strategic analysis usually pursued by political historians and turned his attention to quasi-mechanical and quantifiable processes which, he assumed, govern the dynamics of the international system of sovereign states.

Despite the eccentricity of his mathematical war-prediction model, Richardson was apparently quite influential in the history of mathematics. Wikipedia notes that he did pioneering work in mathematical techniques of weather forecasting, as well as in the study of fractals.

Posted By: Alex - Sun Jan 10, 2021 - Comments (8)
Category: Science | War | 1930s

The Aeolus Wind Car Competition

The event got cancelled in 2020, but plans to resume this year.

Forty seconds of narration in French preface this second video.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Jan 10, 2021 - Comments (2)
Category: Contests, Races and Other Competitions | Technology | Environmentalism and Ecology | Cars

January 9, 2021

Henry Budd, the Anti-Mustache Millionaire

English eccentric Henry Budd stipulated in his will that his sons would forfeit their inheritance if they ever grew a mustache. Details from

Henry lived until 1862 when he died in London. In his Will his estate was valued £200,000 which would be tens of millions today. The Will divided his estates between his only surviving children, namely his sons William and Edward. Henry added a final stipulation that should either of his sons grow a moustache they would forfeit their share which would revert to the other brother.

The newspapers reported this in some detail at the time, and it was still worthy of news 20 years later in 1882.

Detail from Budd's will in which he forbids his sons from ever growing mustaches

Posted By: Alex - Sat Jan 09, 2021 - Comments (4)
Category: Law | Nineteenth Century | Hair and Hairstyling

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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2016 by the author of the post, which is usually either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.

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