Cyclopedia of Factoids - The Letter T

Entries written by Sam Vaknin for the Links and Factoids Study List

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Tapeworms affect not only the digestive tract - but also the liver. They range in size from 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) to a whopping 15 meters (50 feet!).

They are found in almost all vertebrates, including fish. Many of them have distinct heads and bodies. None of them has a mouth or any trace of a digestive tract. They absorb their food rather than digest it.

Tapeworms are hermaphrodite - i.e., each individual is both male and female. They fertilize themselves. When "pregnant" each tapeworm contains hundreds of thousands of embryos. Such embryos, when lodged in the intestinal wall can bore through it into a blood vessel and be carried to their final destination in a muscle.

Tapeworms are only one of a few kinds of human worm-parasites.

Teapot Dome

With the exception of Watergate, there has never been a scandal more egregious and with wider implications than the Teapot Dome affair during the presidency of Warren G. Harding. It involved the secret leasing to private companies of oil-containing tracts owned by the Navy, mainly in Wyoming and California.

"Domes" are natural reservoirs of crude oil. The "Teapot Dome" - named after a rock resembling the kitchen implement - was near Casper, Wyoming. It was "reserved" in 1920 for the future energy needs of American Navy vessels.

Senator Albert B. Fall of New Mexico - Harding's secretary of the Interior - opposed this "conservation" policy. Hence his furtive attempt - in collusion with Secretary of the Navy, Edward Denby and others - to lease the domes to private extractors. Teapot Dome was leased to Harry F. Sinclair's Mammoth Oil Company. The Elk Hills reserve in California was rented to Edward L. Doheny's Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company. The two gave Fall and others gifts and "loans" amounting to $400,000 - an enormous fortune at the time.

The scandal was made public in 1922 in a long investigation by the U.S. Senate's Committee on Public Lands led by Senator Thomas J. Walsh from Montana and Senator Robert M. Lafollette.

After much prevarication by Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty, Fall was brought to justice. He sentenced to one year in prison and $100,000 fine in 1929 and many officials were implicated. Daugherty himself resigned in 1924. When Harding died in 1923, he was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge and public outrage subsided. Coolidge acted resolutely and appointed special prosecutors under his personal supervision to protect the interests of the government.

The Supreme Court annulled both the Elk Hills and the Teapot Dome leases in 1927. But, though government officials were convicted of corruption and conspiracy - no oilman was found guilty of bribing (still, they paid damages). Sinclair refused to collaborate with a second Senate investigation and hired gumshoes to shadow members of the jury in his case. He served a short sentence for tampering with a jury and for criminal contempt.

The Democrats failed to capitalize on the affair and lost the presidential elections in both 1924 and 1928.


The transmission of images obsessed inventors as early as 1875 when George Carey of Boston proposed his cumbersome system. Only five years later, the principle of scanning a picture, line by line and frame by frame - still used in modern television sets - was proposed simultaneously in the USA (by W.E. Sawyer) and in France (by Maurice Leblanc). The first complete television system - using the newly discovered properties of selenium - was patented in Germany in 1884, by Paul Nipkow. Boris Rosing of Russia actually transmitted images in 1907. The idea to incorporated cathode -ray tubes was proposed in 1911 by a Scottish engineer, Campbell Swinton.

Another Scot, John Logie Baird, beat American inventor C.F. Jenkins to the mark by giving the first public demonstration of - a dim and badly flickering - television in 1926 in Soho, London. Britain commenced experimental broadcasting almost immediately thereafter. Irish actress Peggy O'Neil was the first to be interviewed on TV in April 1930. The Japanese televised an elementary school baseball match in September 1931. Nazi Germany started its own broadcasting service in 1935 and offered coverage of the 1936 Olympics. By November 1936, the BBC was broadcasting daily from Alexandra Palace in London to all of 100 TV sets in the kingdom.

At the beginning there were many competing standards on both sides of the Atlantic. Baird's technological solutions were trounced by Isaac Shoenberg and his team, set up in 1931 by Electric and Musical Industries (EMI). RCA refined its own system, as did the Dutch Philips. Not until 1951 were the standards for public broadcasting set in the USA and in Europe.

But the Americans were the ones to grasp the commercial implications of television. Bulova Clock paid $9 to WNBT of New York for the first 20-seconds TV spot, broadcast during a game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies in July 1941. Soap operas followed in February 1947 (DuMont TV's A Woman to Remember) and the first TV news helicopter was launched by KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles on 4 July 1958.

The first patent for color television was issued in Germany in 1904. Vladimir Kosma Zworykin, the Russia-born American innovator, came up with a complete color system in 1925. Baird himself demonstrated color TV transmission in 1928. Various researchers at Bell Laboratories perfected color television in the late 1920s. Georges Valenso of France patented a series of breakthrough technologies in 1938. But color TV became widespread only in the 1960s.



Domestic terrorism is not a new phenomenon in the United States.

On March 1, 1954, Puerto Rican freedom fighters - or terrorists - led by Lolita Lebron, opened fire in the US House of Representatives (Congress). Five congressmen were wounded. They protested the United States' "military occupation" of their country. The attackers were apprehended, imprisoned and released in 1979. They are considered heroes by the island's independence movement to this very day.


Lightning strikes men about four times more often than it strikes women. Most men are under the age of 39. Men account for 84% of lightning-related fatalities and 82% of injuries, according to a study titled "Demographics of US Lightning Casualties and Damages from 1959 - 1994," by Ronald L. Holle and Raúl E. López of the National Severe Storms Laboratory and E. Brian Curran of the National Weather Service.

In the United States alone there were 3,239 deaths and 9,818 injuries from lightning strikes between 1959 and 1994, according to The National Weather Service publication Storm Data.

Lightning travels less than 20 kilometers from the cloud in which it was hatched. The air within the bolt is heated to many times the temperature on the surface of the sun (50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or c. 28,000 degrees Celsius).


The Titanic sank in less than 3 hours despite its 16 watertight compartments. Of 2220 passengers and crew aboard - 1513 died, including a few millionaires. Three survivors are still alive today. The Titanic carried passengers transferred to it from two other cruise liners due to a strike.

The radio operator of the "Californian" was asleep and did not hear the Titanic's distress signals.

The story of a huge gash inflicted on the 269 meters long ship is a myth. Sonar findings indicate that the damage was limited to 35 meters of the hull and had a surface area of merely 1 square meter. The ship seems to have broken in three pieces BEFORE it sank.


Tsunami - a seismic sea wave - means in Japanese "harbor-wave". It is also misleadingly called "tidal wave". It is an ocean wave caused by an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 on the Richter scale (or greater) that occurs less than 50 kilometers beneath the seafloor. Tsunamis can also be caused by volcanic eruptions and by landslides.

Tsunami waves are followed by three to five oscillations of the continental shelf waters. These convulsions may last up to a week. If the initial wave reaches the shore at its trough phase, the water recede and expose the seafloor. This happened in Lisbon Port on November 1, 1755. A few minutes later, the displaced waters return with energetic vengeance.

In the ocean, tsunami waves are merely 0.5-2 meters high with a wavelength of up to 200 kilometers. Consequently, they are virtually impalpable though they move at speeds of up to 700 kilometers per hour. As the waves near the shoreline, friction with the shallow bottom reduces their velocity, shortens their wavelength, increases their amplitude and their height.

The tsunami wave that swept across the coasts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and Africa on December 26, 2004 was 10-12 meters high. It traveled almost 6000 kilometers. It killed almost 300,000 people. An earthquake in the fjord-like Lituya Bay, Alaska, on July 9, 1958, generated a tsunami wave 524 meters (1719 feet) high, moving at a speed of 160 kilometers per hour. Luckily, the area was largely uninhabited.

Other notable tsunamis:

In 1703 at Awa, Japan or, more likely, as a result of the Genroko (Kanto) earthquake. It claimed close to 10,000 lives.

On April 24, 1771, a tsunami caused by an underwater earthquake struck the Japanese island of Ishigaki (in the Ryuku chain). It was 85 meters high. It was so powerful that it hurled a 750 ton piece of coral to a distance of 2.5 kilometers inland.

Again in Japan, 27,000 people drowned in 1896, in a giant tsunami.

In the wake of the underwater volcanic eruptions that obliterated the island of Krakatau (Krakatoa) on August 26-27, 1883, a wave 35 meters high swept across the East Indies killing in excess of 36,000 people.

Triggered by a submarine landslide, a tsunami at least 375 meters high struck the island of Lanai in Hawaii about 105,000 years ago.

The 1960 earhquake in Chile created tsunami waves that traveled more than 10,000 kilometers to Hilo, Hawaii. The 12 meters high water wall killed 61 people and destroyed many buildings.

The Seismic Sea Wave Warning System (SSWWS), based in Honolulu, is an early warning system covering the entire, tsunami-prone, Pacific Ocean.

Dr. Catherine M. Petroff of the University of Washington editor and contributing author to the website "Tsunami!" at the
University of Washington, adds:

"Other more disastrous tsunamis include South China Sea 1782 (40,000 dead), Krakatau 1883 (36,500 dead) and Nankaido 1498 (31,201 dead). Even higher death tolls are associated with other events such as the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the ca 1400 B.C. eruption of Santorini, but in these cases it is difficult to find accurate numbers for strictly tsunami related fatalities."

Tussaud, Madam Marie

Marie Tussaud (her real name was a less French sounding Grosholtz) must have been a remarkable woman. From truly humble origins - her mother worked as the housekeeper of one, Dr. Philippe Curtius - she sprang to fame in less than 10 years. The good doctor owned and operated a small wax museum in Paris and, when he died in 1794, Marie - who was his trainee and maybe more - inherited his collection of death masks and a house or two in Paris.

In 1780, nineteen years old Marie was appointed art tutor to the sister of King Louis XVI. For the next nine years her official residence was the sumptuous Palace of Versailles. When the French Revolution turned into the Reign of Terror, she was commissioned to make death masks of the guillotined.

With 70 wax figures she embarked on a tour of England. The collection included replicas of the late Royal Family of France, a model of the guillotine, and an Egyptian mummy. It was a morbid hit.
In 1835 she settled in London and opened her establishment in Baker Street. The rest, as they say, is history.


Twins are born together or, at the most, a few minutes apart. Right? Wrong.  

When one twin dies, the other can be born as much as 153 days later. When both survive, the second twin can be born even two months later. This is called "Delayed Interval Delivery".

Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon was a "healthy carrier" of an infectious disease, the first ever reported and observed in the New World.

But, since then, and throughout the first two decades of the 20th century, more than 100 people were added annually to the rolls of "healthy carriers" of typhoid in New-York alone.

Moreover, though she infected 47 people with typhoid fever (11 of which were members of one family and their hired help) - only 3 of her inadvertent victims died. Tony Labella, another carrier, caused the death of 5 people (of 122 he had infected).

But the nickname of this New York City, fiery Irish immigrant cook - Typhoid Mary - was widely dreaded in the early 1900s. Immune to the disease herself, she was the perfect carrier through her contaminated food.

Private investigators hired in 1906 to find the source of the epidemic failed. George Soper, a civil engineer, traced it back to 37-years old Mallon. When he confronted her with his suspicions and asked for samples of her blood and stool, she advanced on him with a carving knife. She similarly lunged with a "long kitchen knife" at policemen who accompanied visiting health officials. Having been found hiding in an areaway closet, under the staircase outside, on a neighbour's property, she was ultimately subdued.

Attempts to cure her with Hexamethylenamin, laxatives, Urotropin, and brewer's yeast failed. She was quarantined in 1907 for a period of three years by health officials. She was released in February 1910 when she pledged not to prepare food for others again, to observe some rules of hygiene, to provide periodic fecal samples, and to notify the health department on changes of her address.

She sued the Board of Health of the City of New York in 1909. Weekly stool samples she sent to a private lab came consistently clean - while the same stool, analyzed by the department's own labs, turned out to be mostly infected with typhoid bacilli!!!

She protested her innocence:

"This contention that I am a perpetual menace in the spread of typhoid germs is not true. My own doctors say I have no typhoid germs. I am an innocent human being. I have committed no crime and I am treated like an outcast - a criminal. It is unjust, outrageous, uncivilized. It seems incredible that in a Christian community a defenseless woman can be treated in this manner."

She lost the case though, in some respects, she was treated unfairly. Alphonse Cotils, another typhoid carrier, a restaurant and bakery owner who repeatedly violated his pledge not to prepare food for his clientele, got away with a mere reprimand.

In 1911, inoculation for typhoid became publicly available - but few bothered as the disease had only a 10% fatality rate.

Mallon reneged on her promises to the Health Board and in 1915 - using the pseudonym Ms. Brown - infected mothers and their newborns with typhoid at the Sloane Maternity Hospital in Manhattan where she worked as a cook. Twenty five people caught the fever and two of them died.

She spent the next 23 years - until her death in 1938 - with her dog in quarantine at Riverside Hospital in North Brother Island. She became a nurse, hospital help, and a kind of lab technician. After a massive stroke she suffered in 1932, she was transferred to the children's ward.

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