Octopuses and the Beatles. Real squirrels in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. R&B star helps Africa [r/TodayiLearned, Episode #15]


TIL octopuses have been observed acquiring shiny and reflective objects and planting them around their homes in the seabed like a garden. The song “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles was inspired by the captain of a boat informing Ringo Starr of this fact while on vacation.

Ringo Starr’s second composition for The Beatles was written in Sardinia. On 22 August 1968, he temporarily walked out of sessions for the White Album after becoming disenchanted with the increasing tensions within the group. He took his family abroad for a boating holiday, returning to Abbey Road on 5 September.

Ringo Star said:

I wrote Octopus’s Garden in Sardinia. Peter Sellers had lent us his yacht and we went out for the day… I stayed out on deck with [the captain] and we talked about octopuses. He told me that they hang out in their caves and they go around the seabed finding shiny stones and tin cans and bottles to put in front of their cave like a garden. I thought this was fabulous because at the time I just wanted to be under the sea too. A couple of tokes later with the guitar – and we had Octopus’s Garden!

The song was first worked on by Starr and George Harrison during the Get Back sessions in January 1969; perhaps Harrison felt a sense of solidarity after feeling that his own compositions were being dismissed as second-rate by Lennon and McCartney.


TIL 40 real squirrels were trained to crack nuts for Charlie & the Chocolate Factory instead of using CGI

Even with sophisticated computer-generated technology available, director Tim Burton refused to take any shortcuts with the famous Nut Room scene in Roald Dahl’s novel.

It had to be as life-like as possible, Burton decided, which meant squirrels cracking and sorting nuts on a conveyor belt.

In the film, they are seen sitting on stools testing the quality of the nuts until their work is rudely interrupted by one of the humans, in an action they take strong exception to.

Some of the squirrels were hand-reared and required bottled milk on set, and others came from squirrel rescues or private homes.

Steve Vedmore, an animal trainer from Brynmawr, south Wales, worked for eight weeks on the film.

Because of a confidentiality agreement with Warner Bros, he can’t reveal exactly what happened on set but, having worked with squirrels before, he says some are easy to train and some aren’t.

“The placid ones are good to handle and other ones are aggressive, so we use them as runner animals if we can run them from A to B because they’re not good for human contact. They bite.”

Training is based on food rewards, so the squirrels got nuts when they did what was required.

“You shape their behavior so if you’re running them from A to B – which could be 100m – you put catching boxes inches away so they run into the box and get a reward. Then you put the box further and further away.”

Some worked harder than others, while some filled up on nuts very quickly and then lost interest, he says.


TIL of Pablo EskoBear, a 175lb black bear that died from a drug overdose after he consumed about half his own weight in cocaine. The bear was later stuffed and is now a tourist attraction in Kentucky. He currently has a note around his neck warning: “Don’t do drugs”

A 175-pound black bear apparently died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said. The cocaine was apparently dropped from a plane piloted by Andrew Thornton, a convicted drug smuggler who died Sept. 11 in Knoxville, Tenn., because he was carrying too heavy a load while parachuting. The bureau said the bear was found Friday in northern Georgia among 40 opened plastic containers with traces of cocaine.

“Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn’t a mammal on the planet that could survive that. Cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”

Despite all that, the examiner said, the bear’s body remained in good cosmetic shape. Such good shape that he thought it would be a shame to just have it cremated. He contacted a hunting buddy who did taxidermy, had it stuffed and then gifted it to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, where it was displayed in the visitor center behind a plaque without mention of its party animal past.


TIL in 2014, singer Akon launched his Akon Lightning Africa project, which aims to provide electricity in Africa by installing solar street lights and small energy systems. The project now provides electricity in 14 African countries and employs over 5000 people to install and maintain the equipment

Senegalese-American R&B star Akon’s keys to social enterprise in Africa aren’t the pithy tidbits of advice you’d normally hear at development conferences.

Describing Akon Lighting Africa, a company he co-founded to bring solar lights to rural areas around the continent, he described tactics have included “manipulating” the electoral system to get leaders on board.

In case they missed it, the multi-platinum-selling artist repeated himself for emphasis, turning on the charm with his mostly African audience.

“In Africa, you’ve gotta manipulate them. You have to. You have to trick ‘em. No, like, really: You’ve gotta trick ‘em,” he said at Coca-Cola Co.’s Africa day celebration May 27. (Coke hosts employees within its Africa Diaspora Network every May for an appreciation event at the headquarters in Atlanta.)

Akon Lighting Africa is simply the first step in the singer’s mammoth ambitions to change the continent. He is already planning for stage two: Akon Building Africa, an infrastructure initiative. Then, he hopes to see Akon Healing Africa (hospitals) Akon Feeding Africa (agriculture) and, eventually, Akon Teaching Africa (education).


TIL from the 1920’s to the 1950’s cigarette companies routinely paid doctors to endorse and prescribe their brand of cigarettes to patients, falsely claiming them as a “healthy” alternative to other brands. This was done to cover up increasing evidence of the harm done by smoking.

In the 1930s and 1940s, smoking became the norm for both men and women in the United States, and a majority of physicians smoked. At the same time, there was rising public anxiety about the health risks of cigarette smoking. One strategic response of tobacco companies was to devise advertising referring directly to physicians. As ad campaigns featuring physicians developed through the early 1950s, tobacco executives used the doctor image to assure the consumer that their respective brands were safe.

These advertisements also suggested that the individual physicians’ clinical judgment should continue to be the arbiter of the harms of cigarette smoking even as systematic health evidence accumulated. However, by 1954, industry strategists deemed physician images in advertisements no longer credible in the face of growing public concern about the health evidence implicating cigarettes.