Paint Drying (2016)

Welcome to the 7th Advent Calendar of Curiosities! 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! ^_^

Paint Drying is a 10-hour movie directed by the British filmmaker Charlie Lyne and released in 2016. It literally shows a single, unbroken shot of white paint drying on a brick wall.

With this movie, Lyne is protesting against the practices of the British Board of Film Classification, specifically against censorship and mandatory classification: all movies shown in UK cinemas have to be reviewed by the BBFC, and the filmmakers have to pay around 500 GBP per hour of film material.

But on the flip side, the BBFC is also required to watch the movies submitted to them in full. Lyne raised the money for submitting the film on Kickstarter. According to a BBFC spokesperson, "Examiners are required to watch a very wide variety of content every day, so this didn't phase them."

The movie was rated "U" for "Universal".

The Big Bay Boom Incident

The Big Bay Boom is an annual fireworks show that takes place in San Diego since 2001. It claims to be one of the largest and logistically most complex fireworks in the world.

But in 2012, 7000 fireworks intended for a 17-minute show went off at once, and exploded simultaneously in less than a minute. Nobody was harmed. The incident was blamed on a corrupted computer file.

Bubblegum Broccoli

In an attempt to provide children with more healthy food, McDonald's allegedly once experimented with broccoli flavored like bubblegum. According to then-CEO Donald Thompson, the flavor turned out to be confusing for children, and thus, the broccoli was never introduced.


Cloaca is a conceptual art installation by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye. It is a machine that simulates a digestive tract: Food can be fed to a transparent bowl at one end, and it then passes through a series of tubes and containers, until a feces-like substance is ejected at the other end.

Delvoye sells the (realistically smelling) output for 1500 EUR a piece. According to him, "it is selling very well".

According to Delvoye, the art piece is a comment to the pointlessness of modern life. He wanted to build the most useless machine – one that reduces food to waste.

Polydactyl Cats

Usually, cats have 18 toes: five toes on each fore paw, and four on each hind paw. But then, there are polydactyl cats, which have more toes than that, with up to seven toes per paw. The recognized world record for the highest number of toes is 28.

The trait seems to be most widespread along the east coast of North America. It is not common in Europe, probably because the cats were associated with witchcraft and killed.

Polydactyl cats were valued on board of sailing ships for their extraordinary climbing and hunting abilities. Sailors also thought they brought good luck at sea.

Exploding Toads

In 2005, there was a pond near Hamburg, Germany, where about a thousand toads exploded in just a few days. The event dumbfounded scientists for several weeks. The area was closed down by the police out of fear of a infectious disease.

Finally, an animal doctor found the explanation: The toads were so distracted due to their mating season that crows, which also lived near the pond, could pick the toads' skin open, pull out their liver and eat it. Later, when the toads tried to inflate their bodies as a defensive reaction, the opened skin couldn't hold the pressure, leading to the explosion.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum

According to the museum's website, it contains "more than two hundred and fifteen penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland."

"Now, thanks to The Icelandic Phallological Museum, it is finally possible for individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion."

Strangler fig

The strangler fig is a rain forest plant, which has developed a special strategy to survive and spread: When birds put its seed at the top of other trees, the fig just starts growing there, where it already has access to sunlight. It then grows its roots down to the ground, and while doing so, envelops its host tree. Sometimes, it will fully enclose the host tree with its leaves and roots, so the host dies. But at this point, the strangler fig has developed a stable structure, and can survive on its own.

Simulation hypothesis

The simulation hypothesis states that we most likely live inside a computer simulation.

The argument goes like this: Computer games have gotten dramatically more realistic over the last decades. In comparison to Pong, modern 3D games look a lot like the real world, and VR games even go one step further. If we assume that the games get more realistic every year - even by a tiny bit - eventually they will be indistinguishable from reality. At that point, a lot people might have such simulation games in their video consoles.

Considering that we can't distinguish between being inside such a game and being in the "real world", and that there are many simulations, but only one real world, it is very likely that we are inside such a simulation.

I've recently heard one addition to this theory: The reality layer above ours, which runs our simulation, is probably really boring. When you look at games and movies produced by us, they always compress interesting stuff into a limited amount of time and space. Probably, the beings which created our simulation would have done the same, and made it more exciting or interesting than their reality.

Fallen Astronaut

The Fallen Astronaut is the only sculpture on the Moon. It was brought there by the Apollo 15 crew in 1971, and is intended to commemorate the astronauts who died in the context of space exploration.

The crew kept the sculpture secret from NASA and the public until after their mission, and smuggled it on board.

Interesting number paradox

The interesting number paradox states that all natural numbers are interesting.

The proof goes like this: Assume there were uninteresting numbers at all. Then, in the set of uninteresting numbers, there would be a smallest one. But this number would then be interesting for the property of being the smallest uninteresting number. This contradiction shows that the set of uninteresting numbers must be empty.

Some have attempted to find this "smallest uninteresting number" anyway. The smallest number not in OEIS, the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, is currently 17843. The smallest number which does not have its own Wikipedia article is 262. And the smallest number that has no special properties listed anywhere in Wikipedia except for a prime factorization is 275.


Gadsby is a lipogrammatic novel by the American author Ernest Vincent Wright that does not contain the letter E. The plot tells how protagonist John Gadsby saves his hometown from decline.

Write said that he tied town the "e" key on his typewriter, so he couldn't type the letter accidentally. Despite these efforts, the book contains three occurrences of the word "the", and one occurrence of the word "officers".

The book avoids the "-ed" suffix for past tense, and uses constructions with "do", like "did walk" instead of "walked". Also, it contains abbreviations, but only those whose full form is lipogrammatic.

Gadsby inspired Georges Perec's French novel La Disparition, which also avoids the letter E. This book was later translated to several languages, including English (A Void), German (Anton Voyls Fortgang), and Swedish (Försvinna).

Full scan of Gadsby

Here's the first paragraph:

If Youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn't constantly run across folks today who claim that "a child don't know anything." A child's brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult's act, and figuring out its purport.

Godwin's law

Godwin's law, formulated by the American attorney and author Mike Godwin, asserts that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1". Godwin originally referred to Usenet newsgroup discussions, but the rule is now also applied to other forms of online threaded discussion mediums, like forums and chat rooms.

There's a tradition in some online discussion groups that, as soon as a Hitler comparison is made, the person making that analogy loses the discussion and the debate is over. On the other hand, there's the danger of the principle being used as a distraction, when referring to an actually valid comparison as hyperbole.

In December 2015, in the context of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Godwin stated: "If you're thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler when you talk about Trump, or any other politician."

Hommingberger Gepardenforelle

In 2005, the German computer magazine c't started a competition: The task was to design a website which would show up as high as possible in various search engines for the term Hommingberger Gepardenforelle (literally the "Cheetah Trout of Hommingberg", neither the place nor the animal exist). The term was chosen because it previously had no hits in the search machines' indices.

The point of the contest was to investigate how different search engine optimization tactics would work out.

The winning site after 8 months was the rather bland site hommingberger-gepardenforelle.de, which discusses farming of the animal, and lists various recipes.

Spaghetti sort

Spaghetti sort is an analog algorithm for sorting a sequence of numbers in linear time. This means that when you double the amount of numbers to be sorted, the time needed to sort those numbers only doubles, as well. That's a highly unusual property, with usual sorting algorithm becoming more and more less efficient the more numbers there are to be sorted.

The algorithm goes like this:

  1. For each number, break off a piece of spaghetti, whose length equals the number. This takes linear time.
  2. Take all spaghetti in your fist, and slam their lower sides on the table, so they all point up starting at the table. This takes constant time, thanks to the multi-processing properties of our universe.
  3. Lower your other hand on the bundle of spaghetti. Take out the one which you touch first. This is clearly the longest one. Continue to lower your hand and to remove spaghetti, laying them out next to each other, until all spaghetti have been processed. Again, this takes linear time.
  4. Transcribe the spaghetti lengths back to the respective numbers, using linear time. Done!

This algorithm was introduced by Canadian scientist Alexander Dewdney in his Scientific American colum.

Diary of a Space Zucchini

Astronaut Don Pettit, was part of the ISS Expedition 30/31 crew. He wanted to see how well he could grow a zucchini plant in a plastic bag in microgravity. He also started a series of blog posts, which tell the development of the plant from its own perspective, The Diary of a Space Zucchini.


Pixels of LCD monitors are usually composed of three stripes of the colors red, green, and blue. Tech enthusiast Matt Sarnoff used this property to his advantage when inventing a subpixel text encoding font. Its glyphs are comprised of colored strips only one pixel wide. But when viewed on LCD monitors, the color strips clearly form letters and numbers!

Fun fact: In 2013, I had a Twitter avatar containing millitext! Can you decipher it?

Lorem ipsum

Lorem ipsum is a common placeholder text in publishing and graphics design, which gives documents or websites the appearance of holding real text, without containing any meaningful content.

The text is a mashup of sections in Cicero's philosophical work De finibus bonorum et malorum. A common form reads:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

As words from the original have been removed, added, or altered a precise translation from Latin is not possible. However, the original meaning of the first sentence goes something like this:

Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure.

The source of the above standard form is unknown. However, a 1914 version of De finibus contains a page break in the middle of the term "(do-)lorem ipsum", suggesting that this page might have been the basis for the scrambled version.


Blinkenlights is a term for diagnostic lights on the front panels of machines, computers, and network hardware. Already in 1955, a sign in mock-German like that on the right was displayed in the server rooms at IBM.

The word gave its name to Project Blinkenlights, a 2001 light installation in Berlin by the Chaos Computer Club.

Phaistos Disc

The Phaistos Disc was found in 1908 at the archaeological sit of Phaistos on the island of Crete. Both sides contain spirals of stamped symbols. Its purpose and meaning remain disputed. Many unsuccessful attempts have been made to decipher the code.

The disc has been dated to about 1600 B.C., and while some believe it is a forgery, most scientists consider it authentic.

The characters found on the disc have been included in the Unicode standard as code points U+101D0 through U+101FF.

Impossible colors

Impossible colors are color perceptions which are not possible for the human eye under normal lighting conditions.

There are several kinds of impossible colors: Chimerical colors can be seen by looking on an image like the one on the right for at least 20 seconds, until some of the color cone cells become fatigued, and then looking onto another base color.

Mixtures of opponent hues, like green-red or yellow-blue can be seen by crossing eyes on images like this or this.

Dancing plague

In 1518, a woman began dancing in the streets of Strasbourg, and simply didn't stop. Within a month, around 400 dancers joined her. Some of them would later die of exhaustion, heart attacks, or strokes.

Modern explanations of this behavior center around a toxic wheat fungus, containing psychoactive substances similar to LSD. Several other dancing plague cases have been reported during the medieval era.

The Dark Side of the Rainbow

The Dark Side of the Rainbow refers to the practice of watching the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, and listening to Pink Floyd's 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon at the same time. Most suggest starting the album on the third roar of the MGM lion.

The music syncs to the movie's plot surprisingly well; getting dramatic in dramatic movie scenes, or matching thematically, like playing "Brain Damage" during a dance of the scarecrow character.

Pink Floyd band member have repeatedly said that the phenomenon is a coincidence.

Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the deity of a satirical religion called Pastafarianism, a movement that opposes teaching of intelligent design and creationism in schools.

The FSM was invented by then 24-year-old Bobby Henderson in 2005, in an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, arguing that intelligent design and his belief that "the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster" were equally valid:

I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.

When he received no reply from the Board, he published his letter on the Internet, and word quickly spread, and was picked up by mainstream media.

By now, there's a whole canon of Pastafarian beliefs, later published in Henderson's book The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: The FSM created the universe "after drinking heavily", which is the cause for its many flaws. Pastafarian heaven is depicted having a beer vulcano and a stripper factory. Pirates are viewed as "peace-loving explorers and spreaders of good will" , and the legend that they are thieves and outcasts is supposed to be misinformation spread by Christian theologians. Their decline is correlated with global warming and other natural disasters. Pastafarians celebrate each Friday as a holy day, and conclude prayers with the word "R'amen".

Several people have obtained driver's licenses and passports displaying photos of them wearing a pasta strainer, which is considered a religious headgear.

And that concludes this year's edition of the Advent Calendar of Curiosities. If you enjoyed this, you can throw coins at me on Patreon! Thanks for reading, and have a great 2019! <3