a koala bear in a tree

If you wanted to build an algorithm to find the most interesting facts in the world, how would you do it? Since it seems that the modern media industry is built on mining interesting content from the Reddit, we thought that would be a good place to start: we built a web crawler that identifies the most interesting facts unearthed by the Reddit community.

Some of the most interesting facts are brought to light in the subreddit called Today I Learned (TIL). In TIL, users post links to articles or websites that taught them a surprising, specific fact that day. They then write their own title for the post, identifying the salient interesting fact that’s buried in the text.

For example: a Priceonomics article about the prop money used in movies, called The Business of Fake Money, was posted to TIL with following title:

TIL The fake prop money used in Rush Hour 2 was too accurate. After extras tried to spend what was left lying around after the climax was filmed, the Secret Service raided and seized $100 million in fake bills from the prop maker and accused them of counterfeiting.

As we were reading the articles that got submitted to this subreddit, we noticed something: the same articles kept getting submitted over and over and over. This lead us to believe that these articles were especially interesting, if people were continually surprised by them.

Not only that, but sometimes someone would submit the Wikipedia page of, say, Albert Einstein and nothing would happen. Other times, it would skyrocket to the front page of Reddit. The difference was the title that the Reddit user used to identity the interesting tidbit was better in the second case.

So our data crawling team built a simple algorithm that would crawl through the Today I Learned subreddit and count how many times a given article was submitted. Then, of all the times it was submitted, the crawler would choose the title that garnered the most upvotes (and therefore identified the most interesting fact in an already exceptionally interesting article).

And so without further ado, we present to you the 17 most interesting facts in the world calculated by the Priceonomics data team and analysis engine, though really all credit should go to the Reddit users (whose titles we copy exactly below) that found the articles and identified what made this interesting.


1. TIL that Einstein was stopped so much in public, he would reply, “Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein.”

Albert Einstein shaking another man's hand

You must be thinking of someone else, bro. Source: Wikipedia | Reddit 

2. TIL Once out of office, President Harry Truman decided that he did not wish to be on any corporate payroll, believing that taking advantage of such financial opportunities would diminish the integrity of the office. He had no personal savings. His only income was his old army pension: $113 per month.

Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman, William D. Leahy et al. are posing for a picture

Wait, I can make how much on the lecture circuit? Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

3. TIL of an indoor vegetable factory in Japan that produces up to 10,000 heads of lettuce per day and uses just 1% of the amount of water needed for outdoor fields

a person walking down a staircase

Rabbit heaven. Source: GE Reports | Reddit

4. TIL that when Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, he willed the cities of Boston and Philadelphia $4,400 each, but with the stipulation that the money could not be spent for 200 years. By 1990 Boston’s trust was worth over $5 million.

a close-up of Benjamin Franklin's face on a dollar bill

You don’t get to be on the Hundred Dollar Bill without understanding compounding. Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

5. TIL Andre the Giant was so large by the age of 12 that he could not fit on the school bus, and so was driven to school by playwright Samuel Beckett

a group of men in a boxing ring

How dare you speak ill of Waiting for Godot! Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

6. TIL The Museum of Endangered Sounds exists to allow streaming of once popular technological sounds. ie. the dial-up tone, ICQ chat tone, Windows 95 startup

a collage of photos of a house

Ah, the sweet sounds of dial up. Source: The Museum of Endangered Sounds | Reddit

7. TIL that when George Washington died, Napoleon ordered 10 days of mourning in France

a painting of a man

Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

8. TIL the character Zapp Brannigan on Futurama was written specifically for Phil Hartman to play. After Hartman died, Billy West took the role but played the character’s voice and mannerisms as a tribute to how Hartman might have played it


Wikipedia | Reddit

9. TIL that mathematicians have jokingly proposed a standard unit of measurement for beauty: the “millihelen.” Inspired by Helen of Troy, a millihelen is defined as “the amount of beauty required to launch one ship.”

a large sailboat on the water

That is one handsome dude, I guess we need to sail. Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

10. TIL when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, he carried with him a piece from the Wright brothers’ first airplane

a person on the moon

Just in case something goes wrong, I brought some airplane with me too. Source: Wikipedia | Reddit 

11. TIL that due to their small brains koalas are unable to perform complex, unfamiliar tasks such as eat leaves off of flat surfaces.

a koala bear in a tree

Listen, its very important no one move my leaves…never mind why. Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

12. TIL that when Charlie Chaplin received his honorary Oscar, he received a 12-minute standing ovation – the longest in Oscar history.

Jack Lemmon et al. in suits

Chaplin on right receiving the Oscar. Source: Wikipedia | Reddit 

13. TIL that after needing 13 liters of blood for a surgery at the age of 13, a man named James Harrison pledged to donate blood once he turned 18. It was discovered that his blood contained a rare antigen which cured Rhesus disease. He has donated blood a record 1,000 times and saved 2,000,000 lives.

a person wearing gloves and a mask holding a pipe

Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

14. TIL that Weird Al’s parents both died on the same day of carbon monoxide poisoning. Only hours later, he performed a concert and started by saying “since my music had helped many of my fans through tough times, maybe it would work for me as well.”

a woman singing into a microphone

Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

15. TIL Weird Al Yankovic has asked permission from Prince to parody his songs on numerous occasions, and has always been refused. When the two were assigned to sit in the same row at an awards show, he got a telegram from Prince’s lawyers demanding he not make eye contact

Prince playing a guitar

To avoid potential lawsuits, you may want to avoid looking at this picture. Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

16. TIL that the Mona Lisa has no clearly visible eyelashes or eyebrows. In 2007, an engineer used high resolution scans to show the painting was originally painted with clearly visible eyebrows or eyelashes and they gradually disappeared over time, possibly because of over cleaning.

Mona Lisa with long hair

Hmmm, never noticed before that she didn’t have eyebrows. Source: Wikipedia | Reddit

17. TIL that Daryl Davis, a black musician, is credited with dismantling the entire KKK network in Maryland. He did this by befriending many members, even going so far as to serve as a pallbearer at a Klansman’s funeral.

a man in a garment next to a man in a garment

“[Daryl] found that the Klansmen had many misconceptions about blacks…” Source: WikipediaLiberty Voice | Reddit


This post was written by Rohin Dhar. Follow him on Twitter. Web crawling by Fred McDavid. To get occasional notifications when we write blog posts, sign up for our email list.