Cool, Curious and Compelling: Our Best Stories You Might Have Missed in 2017

One company's discarded orange peels turned out to be pretty fruitful for a degraded plot of Costa Rican pasture. DANIEL JANZEN AND WINNIE HALLWACHS

We've made it through what some might consider to have been quite a year. From major natural disasters (including record hurricanes and wildfires in the United States) and incomprehensible tweets from President Donald Trump, to the spectacular solar eclipse and the moving #METOO movement, 2017 has been, well, one for the record books.

And at HowStuffWorks, we've tried to report on it all through our own unique lens. Now we're highlighting some of the extraordinary stories we covered in 2017 about the world in which we live. We've compiled a list of some of the year's best podcasts and articles here, just in case you may have missed them. And cheers to 2018! We hope it's a spectacular year for the smart thinkers and curious-minded.

The Cool

If you don't think composting makes a difference, check this out: In the '90s, orange juice manufacturer Del Oro dumped 13,228 tons (12,000 metric tons) of orange peels in a barren Costa Rican pasture as part of a University of Pennsylvania study to find out how the peels might improve the soil. But just two years later, the company was ordered by Costa Rica's supreme court to stop "defiling a national park." However, in 2013, a second group of researchers decided to check out the orange peel plot, and found it had been transformed into a "lush, fertile forest," especially when compared to a nearby pasture that wasn't treated with peels. Could this success story help divert food waste from our landfills and also have a major impact on Earth? Let's hope so.

If you think the orange peel story is interesting, another cool study found that organic farming traps carbon in soil because compost, green manure and animal matter used by organic farmers gives soil humic acids. Well those humic acids help the soil hold carbon longer than conventionally farmed soil, which means they keep it from contributing to the greenhouse effect. Pretty cool stuff. Read more about the study here.

Stuff You Should Know hosts Josh and Chuck reached a major milestone in 2017 — they recorded their 1,000th podcast. And what could be more fitting to honor that achievement than to commemorate it with an episode about "The Simpsons," a pop culture phenomenon also notable for its longevity, humor and writing.

The Curious

If you've ever wondered which U.S. states pay more in federal taxes than they get back in federal aid and contracts — basically, which states are the biggest givers and which states are the biggest takers — read on. What we found was interesting: Top-earners living in states like California and New York paid more than twice in state income tax than states like Mississippi and Louisiana paid, though Mississippi and Louisiana relied on federal aid for more than 40 percent of their general revenue. You can read the entire article here.

Are you required to pull over for a funeral procession or is it simply a tradition born out of respect?
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Imagine this scenario: You're driving down the road and into the path of an oncoming funeral procession. Who has the right-of-way? You or the procession? Are you required by law to pull over and stop? These are questions that can't be answered with simple responses because the laws vary by state. But if you're wondering what's required where you live, you can read all about what's law and what's tradition here.

Since the National Park Service was created in 1916, hundreds of people — maybe more — have disappeared while visiting them. The odd thing is the government doesn't keep a database of just exactly how many people have gone missing from these federal lands. Stuff They Don't Want You To Know hosts Ben, Matt and Noel discuss how so many have disappeared with cryptologist David Paulides, who suspects the vanishings could be blamed on strange creatures like Bigfoot.

The Compelling

HowStuffWorks reported a lot in 2017 on the opioid crisis gripping the United States. But one of the most riveting stories is about the federal government's response to the crisis compared to its response to the crack epidemic of the 1980s. Blacks accounted for 80 percent of crack arrests, while more than 80 percent of those who have overdosed on opioids are white. The response was to treat crack addicts like "criminals" and opioid addicts like "victims." Why? Read all about the politics of race and addiction here.

Reporters Bob Woodward (left) and Carl Bernstein are credited with uncovering the Watergate scandal.
Ken Feil/The Washington Post/Getty Images

In a year in which the media has often been vilified as the enemy, and "fake news" has become part of our vernacular, we would be wise not to forget the important role the press has played in the life of our nation since the late 19th century. From confronting McCarthyism and bringing down major monopolies, to exposing the Watergate scandal and the abhorrent Catholic priest sex abuse coverup, news media exposés make a difference. These are 10 of them.

Surely you remember the Women's March on Washington in January 2017. But did you know that it was women that led a massive protest in October 1789 that ultimately changed the course of the French Revolution? That's right. Holly and Tracy from Stuff You Missed in History Class explain how thousands of courageous protestors — mostly women — marched 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) from Paris to Versailles to demand King Louis XVI release the palace's grains to the people who were starving.

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