Dip Your Frog to Keep Your Milk Fresh

Russia Finland dipped frogs in milk to keep it from spoiling
Has anyone ever asked you if you have a frog in your throat? If you lived in Russia or Finland  you might literally have had that affliction, simply from drinking a cup of milk. 

In the days before modern refrigeration, inhabitants of Russia and Finland kept milk fresh by dipping a frog in it. 

The practice may seem bizarre, but it is well rooted in science. Russian brown frogs emit peptides that combat the growth of salmonella and other dangerous bacteria. 

Clogging Up the Diplomatic Channels

Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams tours the International Space Station's toilet hygiene station
Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams tours the International Space Station’s toilet hygiene station

The International Space Station, a multinational project, is divided into two sections: an American and Russian section. In 1998, when the venture began, it was reported that the Americans and Russians got along famously, sharing resources such as food and exercise equipment. Unfortunately, squabbles began after the first few years. One of the biggest tiffs between them has been the use of bathroom facilities. In the past, the astronauts/cosmonauts used whichever bathroom was closer, but the Russians, whose meals include such rich fare as jellied fish and borscht, have a tendency to clog the toilets and the Americans have banned them from using their potties.


It’s Bad Enough Being the Middle Child; Imagine Being #43 Out of 87

mother-of-69The record for the most children born to one woman belongs to Valentina Vassilyeva of Shuya, Russia, who gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets between 1725 and 1765. In 27 birthing events she gave birth to 69 children, 67 of whom survived infancy.

After Valentina’s death, her husband, Feodor, remarried and fathered 18 more children. Of his 87 children, 82 survived infancy.

While some doubt has been cast upon the veracity of this information, Guinness Book of World Records investigated and considered it to be credible enough to confer “Most Prolific Mother Ever” upon the first Mrs. Vassilyeva.


When “Whoops” Doesn’t Quite Cut It

Communication from NORAD's WOPR computer in the 1983 movie "War Games"
Communication from NORAD’s WOPR computer in the 1983 movie “War Games”

False alarms leading to nuclear war make for interesting movie plots, but when they happen in real life, they are nightmarish, at best.

One such nightmare happened on the morning of November 9, 1979. NORAD computers alerted personnel to a massive attack by the Soviet Union. Data showed a barrage of incoming nuclear missiles launched from the Soviet Union and its submarines against the United States.

Responding to the apparent attack, military commanders scrambled interceptor fighter planes, ordered the President’s “Doomsday Plane” into the air, and prepared for a retaliatory launch of nuclear missiles.

Before matters could escalate beyond the point of no return, computer operators discovered that a technician had loaded a test program but failed to switch the system into “test mode” before running it. The situation was corrected, but not before raising alarm throughout the defense community.

While the 1979 incident would not repeat itself, NORAD was not immune to further false alarms. Three more scares occurred within the next year, each caused by faulty computer chips. In one of these incidents flash traffic was sent to US Air Force command posts around the world, advising that a nuclear attack was in progress. source

These errors were not limited to the US side of the ocean. On September 26, 1983 Soviet Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov was in command at Serpukhov-15, a bunker where the Soviets monitored their satellite-based detection systems. Shortly after midnight alarms went off, indicating the launch of five US ICMBs toward Russia.

Petrov did not have time to get confirmation of the launch before having to report to Soviet high command. He went off of a hunch that it had to be a false alarm. He reasoned that a US first strike would come in the form of a massive attack, rather than just five missiles.

As it turned out, he was right. A faulty Soviet satellite picked up the glint of sunlight off the clouds near Montana and interpreted it as a missile launch. Petrov’s hunch prevented a retaliatory launch by the Soviet Union. His actions remained classified until the end of the Cold War. source

Sometimes the “whoops” had nothing to do with either side, but was the result of a third party. On January 25, 1995 Norway launched a Black Brant XII rocket from the Andøya Rocket Range in northwestern Norway. It was a scientific project, designed to study the aurora borealis.

The scientists had notified thirty countries, including Russia, of the planned launch. This information did not make it to the Russian radar technicians, however. Upon launch the rocket was spotted by an early warning radar station in Murmansk Oblast, Russia. On radar it appeared to be a US submarine-launched Trident missile, and its trajectory corresponded with what a radar-blocking EMP missile attack would look like, immediately prior to a massive nuclear attack.

Russian military chain of command went into full alert, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin opened the nuclear briefcase in preparation to authorize a nuclear response, if necessary. With ten minutes available to decide whether to authorize a nuclear response, radar operators used eight of those minutes before concluding the trajectory did not place Russia in jeopardy.

This incident was the first and only time a nuclear weapons state had its nuclear suitcase activated and prepared for authorizing a nuclear launch. source


Reducing the Werewolf Population One Adoption at a Time

Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (far right) celebrates a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with Yair Tawail (second from left) after "adopting" him to break his werewolf curse.
Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (far right) celebrates a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with Yair Tawil (second from left) after “adopting” him to break his werewolf curse.

Going the extra mile to keep the werewolf population down, Argentina’s presidents have made it a custom since 1907 to “adopt” the seventh son born in a family.

The practice comes from a Russian legend that a family’s seventh consecutive son was cursed to become a werewolf. Immigrants brought the legend to Argentina, where werewolves are known by the name lobizón. 

According to the legend, the only way to prevent the cursed individual from transforming every full moon into a lupine form beginning on his thirteenth birthday is for the affected person to be adopted by another family.

Argentina’s presidents have stepped up to the plate by adopting the cursed seventh sons since 1907. In the 1970’s, the practice was formalized into law, giving the adopted boys presidential protection, a gold medal, and a scholarship for all studies until the age of 21. For years only boys of Roman Catholic families qualified for this presidential perk. In 2009 the law was amended, removing the Catholic-only qualification.

In 2014 the first Jewish beneficiary of the amended law was adopted as a “godson” of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Yair Tawil’s parents formally requested adoption when Yair was born in 1993 and were denied because they were not Roman Catholic. Yair personally wrote to the president in 2014, citing the change in the law and requesting reconsideration.

While research on the subject is scarce, it does appear that the custom works. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, no seventh son who has been adopted by the president of Argentina has become a lobizón.


You’ve Heard of Flying Reindeer; What About Pollyanna, the Reindeer of the Deep Seas?

Pollyanna, with officers of the HMS Trident
Pollyanna, with officers of the HMS Trident

The British submarine HMS Trident had an unusual crew member for part of its World War II service: a reindeer named Pollyanna.

The Trident was among a fleet of submarines and supply ships that the British Navy sent to support the Soviet Union after the Nazis invaded in June 1941. The Trident was based at Polyarny near the Arctic port of Murmansk when it acquired its new crew member. On the sub’s last night at port, Trident commander Geoffrey Sladen had a farewell dinner with a Soviet admiral. Through the perhaps not very good services of a translator, the two chatted about their families and Sladen explained how his wife had to push a baby carriage up the hill through snow to get to the shops. The admiral, obviously wanting to help Sladen’s wife, duly sent along the local equivalent of a baby carriage puller, a baby reindeer. The gift was passed through the torpedo hatch in a gray bag. With the crew too busy moving out of port, no one realized what was inside the bag until the submarine was at sea.

The crew named the new passenger Pollyanna, in honor of their most-recent port, Polyarna. She became the sub’s mascot and was allowed free access to the sub and even slept in the captain’s cabin. Captain Sladen, a large, burly former rugby player became the mother figure for the young reindeer. She soon adapted to the sub’s culture and routine. Every evening when the sub’s klaxon would ring to signal that the submarine was surfacing, Polly Anna would rush from her cabin to stand under the hatch, eager for a breath of fresh air. The only person she would allow to get close to the hatch was Sladen.

Although the Soviet admiral had kindly placed food — local Murmansk moss — in the bag with Pollyanna, he hadn’t known that the sub was not heading straight back to Britain but on a three-week mission. When the food ran out after three days, the animal was fed scraps from the submariner’s galleys. “She took a great fancy to Carnation Milk,” said one crew member.

Having the animal in the tight confines of a submarine during wartime was far from ideal. “Pollyanna probably was about as happy at the smell of 53 submariners as they were happy with the smell of a reindeer,” said one crew member. When the submarine arrived three weeks later in Blyth in northeastern England, Pollyanna had grown so much that she could not fit easily through the hatch. With the help of a butcher who was a member of the crew, they trussed the animal up through the hatch for a taste of life on solid ground.

After arriving in England Pollyanna was presented to London Zoo in Regent’s Park as a present to the British people from the Russian people. Sladen went back to the Trident, going on to receive a number of medals, including the British Distinguished Service Cross and France’s Croix de Guerre.

Pollyanna, however, was said to have never forgotten her youth under the seas,  Whenever she heard the clanging bell of a fire engine going past the zoo she would lower her head as if ready to rush to the hatch. She died in 1946, only a few days after the Trident was decommissioned.