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Five things we learned last month

Photos: thebarrowboy, Protoplasma Kid/WikimediaCommons, Gareth Fuller/PA Wire/Press Association Images, Bernard McManus, Samantha Marx

We’re gearing up to send the next issue of DG to press and we’re learning loads in the process. Here are five fascinating facts we unearthed in our DG#19 research.

1) Edgar Allan Poe inspired Scrabble. Alfred Butts, who invented the board game in 1931, was intrigued by a cipher used to decode a pirate treasure map in Poe’s short story ‘The Gold-Bug’, which was based on the prevalence of English letters. For his board game, Butts improved Poe’s imprecise ranking by counting letters in newspapers. Before settling on ‘Scrabble’, Butts considered calling his invention ‘Lexiko’ and ‘Criss-Cross Words’.

2) The number of separation barriers between countries and territories has more than tripled since the fall of the Berlin Wall. While few barriers were built in the 12 years after the wall came down, their proliferation dramatically increased after 9/11. There are now more than 45 separation barriers in the world.

3) In the run-up to the UK elections, the Al-Zebabist Nation of Ooog proposed that everybody should be legally required to die of a massive heroin overdose on their 50th birthday. The spoof party, led by self-proclaimed prophet Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah, won 30 votes in Thanet South, where Ukip’s Nigel Farage failed in his bid to win a seat in parliament.

4) Until May it was legally required for people in Iceland’s Westfjords district to kill on sight anyone from the Basque region of Spain. The decree had been issued in 1615 when the survivors of a Basque whaling shipwreck reportedly robbed locals. In the weeks after the decree was issued, 30 Basques were killed in what is now referred to as “the slaying of the Spaniards”.

5) Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in June after hyper-inflation had rendered it practically worthless. Reuters reported that Zimbabweans would receive US$5 for bank accounts with balances of up to 175 quadrillion (175,000,000,000,000,000) Zimbabwean dollars in them, and pay an exchange rate of $1 for every 35 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars to people with more in the bank.


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