True or False, Fact or Fiction

Urban legend … a form of modern folklore consisting of stories usually believed by their tellers to be true

A lot of what we “know” to be true can sometimes turn out to be no more than an ‘urban legend’. The internet has been especially good at propagating certain things which aren’t true as “facts”. But can you tell whether they’re fact or fiction ?

Take the quiz below to see if you know the “truth” … then again maybe this article is propagating more ‘urban legends’ … you decide.

Chewing gum is a controlled substance in Singapore

It’s annoying isn’t it, when you’re on the Tube and grasp the handrail, only to have your fingers close on a revolting old piece of gum stuck to the underside In such moments, it would be great if you could just outlaw chewing gum altogether.


TRUE : In 1992 that’s exactly what Singapore did, partly due to the authorities’ general annoyance at the cleaning costs and partly due to specific concerns around chewing gum interfering with automatic sensors on the train doors of the city’s Mass Rapid Transit system. An outright ban remained in place for twelve years, and affected ‘the substance usually known as chewing gum, bubble gum or dental chewing gum, or any like substance prepared from a gum base of vegetable or synthetic origin and intended for chewing’.

The legislation was backed up by some pretty tough fines. If you don’t have a licence to sell gum for hygiene or dental reasons then you can be fined up to S$2,000 (in the region of £700 or US$1,300) for selling or advertising chewing gum.

An apple contains enough cyanide to kill a man

The theory goes that the cyanide is in the pips; but because most people don’t normally eat the pips, you don’t realise how perilously close you are to sudden death each time you eat an apple.


FALSE : Apple seeds do contain cyanide … sort of. The word cyanide’ is loosely used to refer to a number of compounds, some of which are effectively non-toxic to humans while others are extremely dangerous, including sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide (both solids) as well as hydrogen cyanide (which can appear in liquid or gas form). Hydrogen cyanide gas is particularly toxic, effectively preventing the body’s cells from using oxygen: if inhaled in sufficient concentrations it can cause death within minutes, which is why it was used to administer capital punishment in various American states, until California’s use of lethal gas was ruled to be ‘unconstitutionally cruel and unusual’ in the 1990s.

Back to the apple seeds. If you chew the seeds then the chemicals (specifically, the cyano-genetic glycosides) inside the apple seeds leads to the release of hydrogen cyanide during metabolism. This might sound scary, but the quantities involved are extremely small and you’d have to be chomping hundreds of pips in a short space of time to run any risk of death.

Other sources of cyanogenetic glycosides include almonds, cherries, apricots and cassava (which can produce so much cyanide that it can actually be toxic if not cooked)

Taliban just means ‘students’

If you had to point the start of the so-called War on Terror, if would be fair to say it kicked off in October 2001 when the US initiated ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. The American administration’s stated objectives of invading Afghanistan were to attack terrorist training camps and to depose the Taliban, whose leaders were believed to be sheltering Osama bin Laden. Just one month previously, before September 11 changed the world’s focus, many people knew little about the Taliban, bin Laden or al-Qaeda, unless they remembered Bill Clinton’s 1998 cruise missile attacks against suspected terrorist compounds in Afghanistan and the El Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries factory in Sudan.


TRUE : The War on Terror might suddenly seem a rather less frightening prospect if it turned out that the people the US and their allies were fighting a war against were actually just a bunch of students. For ‘students’ is indeed what the word ‘Taliban’ means: it’s the plural form in Pashto (the language spoken in large parts of Afghanistan and Western Pakistan) of the Arabic word for ‘student’

Incidentally, in Arabic, ‘al-Qaeda’ means ‘the base’.

There’s a gene named after Sonic the Hedgehog

Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the worlds most recognisable video game characters. Ever since his first appearance in 1991, the little blue creature has been battling Dr Eggman (also known as Dr Robotnik), in numerous games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Adventure, Sonic Heroes, Sonic Advance and Sonic and the Secret Ring. His multimedia empire encompasses comics and animated TV series.


TRUE : When not busy shuffling and partying, he’s also apparently running around in your body, because there is a gene called Sonic Hedgehog (symbol: SHH).

The frivolous-sounding name does not mean that SHH is some obscure protein that geneticists don’t really bother with; on the contrary, it has been widely studied and plays an important role in human tissue development.

When the gene was discovered in the 1990s, it was originally to be called the Common European Hedgehog. However, one of the researchers Robert Riddle, who had first cloned the gene, asked for it to be named after the video game character, apparently after seeing it in his daughter’s copy of the British Sonic the Comic magazine.

Incidentally the video game character got his name because he can run faster than the speed of sound and because, er, he’s a hedgehog (albeit one who wears gloves and doesn’t look anything like a hedgehog)

The ancient Egyptians invented bowling

There is a slightly baffling range of different varieties of bowling, such as duckpin, candlepin and five-pin, all of which involve rolling a ball at some pins and knocking them over. These types of ‘bowling’ are not to be confused with lawn bowls (and similar games such as bocce and petanque, a form of boules), in which you try to get your ball as near as possible to another, smaller ball, usually known as the ‘jack’.

The most popular form of bowling nowadays is of course tenpin, which evolved in America from various types of nine-pin skittles games imported from Europe.


TRUE : The European skittles games originated in Germany, where Kegelsport began in religious institutions around the 4th century AD, and quickly gained favour among the wider public.

Prior to the German Kegel craze, the Romans enjoyed something similar to bocce, and the ancient Polynesians played a bowling game called ula matka. But the oldest bowling paraphernalia found so far – dated to around 3200 BC and was found in ancient Eqypt.

The find included 4 diorite balls, 9 conical ‘skittles’ of breccia and limestone and three blocks of marble which could create a small archway.

Author: Robert

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