Have you ever wondered why you can easily remember seemingly useless facts, but are incapable of recalling important dates? Do you marvel at the ease at which you can sing all the words to a song you haven’t heard in years, but you can’t remember what you ate for lunch yesterday? As it turns out, emotion plays a huge role in memory formation. In short: when we attach emotional significance to a piece of information, we’re much more likely to be able to recall it.
But if you’re worried that being a random knowledge retainer is fruitless, fear not: obscure knowledge is actually good for your mental health. Psychologists explain that knowing the answer to a question that others might find arcane causes a rush of dopamine to the brain, similar to the effects of gambling or playing a video game (but with virtually no downside).
Check out these four sources to learn new facts on a daily basis. If nothing else, the random knowledge you’ll acquire will make you an excellent team member at your next trivia night.
1. Now I Know is a free daily newsletter started in 2010 by Dan Lewis, whose day job is senior director of digital marketing at Sesame Street (which means he’s the guy responsible for creating characters’ social media profiles, among other endeavors). The newsletter, which has more than 100,000 subscribers and has been adapted into two books, has covered topics ranging from why women’s shirts button backward, to where the fear of poisoned Halloween came from, to why we wake up with crusty eyes (admit it, you've always wondered) and many, many in between.
2. HQ Triviais the latest app to sweep the nation (even Dan Rather has played--and won!). Available on both Apple and Android platforms, HQ is played twice daily at 3 pm and 9 pm Eastern time and regularly draws hundreds of thousands of competitors, all vying to win a cash prize. Each game consists of 12 rounds, which progress from easy to hard, and competitors have ten seconds to answer each question. Many players admit to being ousted well before getting to the final round, meaning that the answer they got wrong is likely emblazoned in their memory. In fact, research shows that getting questions wrong actually helps you to learn better--meaning that thousands of people are learning something new twice a day.
3. How Stuff Works has become a veritable empire of random facts on subjects ranging from health & science to entertainment to home & garden. The website, which has extended into podcasts (including the popular Stuff You Should Know), apps and video content series, boasts nearly 30 million unique visitors per month, with millions more engaging via other channels. If you’ve ever wondered about safe ways to remove earwax, how big hail can get, or any other number of facts that are totally applicable to daily life or downright bizarre, sign up for the How Stuff Works newsletter.
4. Looking for random information delivered in a witty way? Look no further than Mental Floss, which proclaims to “answer life’s big questions and uncover stories so interesting our readers absolutely must share them.” Mental Floss offers quizzes (sample topics: Big Dogs and Earth Versus Soup) and lists (like 22 Things You Might Not Know About Dawson's Creek and 10 of Benjamin Franklin’s Lesser-Known Feats of Awesomeness) as well as videos and longform content.
Whether you’re looking to bolster your chances of winning Quizzo or are simply game to add some random knowledge to your memory bank, these four sites, apps and podcasts have you covered.
Kaitlin Bitting is a vice president of public relations at Allen & Gerritsen and a certified health & wellness coach. She's passionate about helping people find the motivation to create lasting, positive change in their lives, whether personal or professional. Learn more at kaitlinbitting.com.
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