Tuesday, December 06

The Debunker: Is "In the Air Tonight" about Phil Collins Watching a Man Drown?

by Ken Jennings

You're not just imagining it: the 1980s are back! It's not just Netflix drowning us in nostalgia with Stranger Things and Fuller House. Women are wearing scrunchies, Ghostbusters and Blade Runner are returning to the multiplex, Hulk Hogan is back showing off his moves on videotape, and Teddy Ruxpin is returning to toy stores. Just for fun, we even elected a 1980s curio as President of the United States! But is everything we remember about the eighties the totally tubular truth? "Just say no," says Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, so we've asked him to take us on a DeLorean ride back in time, separating the "Straight Up" facts from the "sweet little lies" of our foggily remembered Bartles & Jaymes youth. As they say, knowing is half the battle.

The Debunker: Is "In the Air Tonight" about Phil Collins Watching a Man Drown?

This rumor, in one of its dozens of variations, is so persistent that no less a scholar than Eminem cites it as fact in his hit "Stan":

You know the song by Phil Collins, "In the Air of the Night" [sic]
About that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drownin'
But didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?    

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Tuesday, November 22

The Debunker: Did All of Custer's Men Die at Little Bighorn?

by Ken Jennings

When most Americans think about American Indians in November, it's probably as part of Thanksgiving pageantry: the Wampanoags who gave the hapless Pilgrims food during their first winter at Plymouth and taught them how to grow corn the following spring, the ninety Indians who attended the "first Thanksgiving" feast in 1621. You may not know that, ever since 1990, November has officially been "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States, a time to recognize "the rich ancestry and traditions" of the nation's first inhabitants. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has some reservations about the accuracy of our Native American knowledge. It's never too late to set the record straight!

The Debunker: Did All of Custer's Men Die at Little Bighorn?

It's hard to say anything about the 1876 U.S. cavalry defeat at Little Bighorn without running afoul of history. General Custer (bzzz!) with his trademark flowing blond hair (bzzz!) led his troops into battle with Sitting Bull's Sioux, only to have his entire 7th Cavalry wiped out (bzzz!) by a Sioux ambush (bzzz!). That's four strikes already.

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Tuesday, November 15

The Debunker: Where Did The Inaccurate Stereotype Of Native American Drunkenness Come From?

by Ken Jennings

When most Americans think about American Indians in November, it's probably as part of Thanksgiving pageantry: the Wampanoags who gave the hapless Pilgrims food during their first winter at Plymouth and taught them how to grow corn the following spring, the ninety Indians who attended the "first Thanksgiving" feast in 1621. You may not know that, ever since 1990, November has officially been "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States, a time to recognize "the rich ancestry and traditions" of the nation's first inhabitants. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has some reservations about the accuracy of our Native American knowledge. It's never too late to set the record straight!

The Debunker: Where Did The Inaccurate Stereotype Of Native American Drinking Even Come From?

The word "firewater," probably a translation from the Ojibwa word for whisky, was popularized by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans. Like many racist stereotypes of Native Americans, this one was invented by settlers back in the earliest days of the frontier. Most Natives had never previously brewed anything stronger than wine from fruit or a mild beer from corn, so European fur traders found that they could barter more successfully with Native Americans who had been plied with kegs of liquor.

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Tuesday, November 08

The Debunker: Did a "Crying Indian" Alert America to the Evils of Pollution?

by Ken Jennings

When most Americans think about American Indians in November, it's probably as part of Thanksgiving pageantry: the Wampanoags who gave the hapless Pilgrims food during their first winter at Plymouth and taught them how to grow corn the following spring, the ninety Indians who attended the "first Thanksgiving" feast in 1621. You may not know that, ever since 1990, November has officially been "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States, a time to recognize "the rich ancestry and traditions" of the nation's first inhabitants. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has some reservations about the accuracy of our Native American knowledge. It's never too late to set the record straight!

The Debunker: Did a "Crying Indian" Alert America to the Evils of Pollution?

On Earth Day 1971, the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful launched one of the most iconic TV ad campaigns in history. A Native American man in traditional buckskins canoes down a river until he reaches a polluted modern metropolis. "Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country," intones narrator William Conrad in his distinctive gravelly voice. A passing car tosses garbage at the Indian's moccasined feet. "Some people don't," Conrad adds. A single tear rolls down the Indian's right cheek.

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Tuesday, November 01

The Debunker: Is It Bad to Be the "Low Man on the Totem Pole"?

by Ken Jennings

When most Americans think about American Indians in November, it's probably as part of Thanksgiving pageantry: the Wampanoags who gave the hapless Pilgrims food during their first winter at Plymouth and taught them how to grow corn the following spring, the ninety Indians who attended the "first Thanksgiving" feast in 1621. You may not know that, ever since 1990, November has officially been "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States, a time to recognize "the rich ancestry and traditions" of the nation's first inhabitants. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has some reservations about the accuracy of our Native American knowledge. It's never too late to set the record straight!

The Debunker: Is It Bad to Be the "Low Man on the Totem Pole"?

The native tribes of my part of America, the Pacific Northwest, are probably best known for their enormous wood sculptures called totem poles. A single tree trunk, often a red cedar, is carved and painted with a series of human and animal figures representing tribal history and legend. There's a long tradition of decorative house posts among Pacific tribes, but the craft of totem pole carving reached its apex in the 19th century, when the poles were status symbols for wealthy Native families.

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Tuesday, October 25

The Debunker: Does "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" Stand for LSD?

by Ken Jennings

Thanks to the hard work of the Association of American State Geologists, the second week of October has been officially declared "Earth Science Week" every year since 1998. So we decided to have Jeopardy!'s rarest gem, Ken Jennings, school us on the hardest rock of them all: diamonds. Are they really forever? Are they a girl's best friend? Let's shed the cold, hard light of 10-carat truth onto some of these semiprecious superstitions.

The Debunker: Does "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" Stand for LSD?

In the spring of 1965, John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives were having dinner with a friend, the cosmetic dentist John Riley. (When you're the biggest rock stars in the world, you can hang out with pretty much any dentist you want!) Riley wanted the Beatles to try the newest craze in swinging London, so he laced their coffee with a still-legal lab chemical called lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. John wasn't crazy about the surprise, but ended up loving his first trip, which he described as "a very concentrated version of the best feeling I'd ever had." Acid became a big influence on John's songwriting, leading to Beatles classics like "She Said, She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows."

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Tuesday, October 18

The Debunker: Is a Diamond Engagement Ring Traditional?

by Ken Jennings

Thanks to the hard work of the Association of American State Geologists, the second week of October has been officially declared "Earth Science Week" every year since 1998. So we decided to have Jeopardy!'s rarest gem, Ken Jennings, school us on the hardest rock of them all: diamonds. Are they really forever? Are they a girl's best friend? Let's shed the cold, hard light of 10-carat truth onto some of these semiprecious superstitions.

The Debunker: Is a Diamond Engagement Ring Traditional?

Today, everyone knows that if you like it, you should put a ring on it. Diamonds, after all, are an age-old symbol of permanence and strength. What could be a better symbol for the start of a marriage? You'll probably be surprised to hear that the idea of a diamond engagement ring isn't a storied tradition at all. In fact, it's a mid-20th century invention, the result of the most successful ad campaign in history.

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Tuesday, October 11

The Debunker: Is It Really Hard to Crush a Diamond?

by Ken Jennings

Thanks to the hard work of the Association of American State Geologists, the second week of October has been officially declared "Earth Science Week" every year since 1998. So we decided to have Jeopardy!'s rarest gem, Ken Jennings, school us on the hardest rock of them all: diamonds. Are they really forever? Are they a girl's best friend? Let's shed the cold, hard light of 10-carat truth onto some of these semiprecious superstitions.

The Debunker: Is It Really Hard to Crush a Diamond?

At some point in school, I had to learn the Mohs scale of hardness, which assigns numerical values to ten different minerals in order of hardness. I've forgotten most of the actual minerals, though. 1 is talc, I think, which is as soft as rock ever gets, unless you count 1970s AM radio. I don't remember any of the others. Except 10! Nobody ever forgets 10. 10 is diamond. 10 is as hard as rock can get. 10 is Black Sabbath or Cannibal Corpse.

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Tuesday, October 04

The Debunker: Do Diamonds Come from Coal?

by Ken Jennings

Thanks to the hard work of the Association of American State Geologists, the second week of October has been officially declared "Earth Science Week" every year since 1998. So we decided to have Jeopardy!'s rarest gem, Ken Jennings, school us on the hardest rock of them all: diamonds. Are they really forever? Are they a girl's best friend? Let's shed the cold, hard light of 10-carat truth onto some of these semiprecious superstitions.

The Debunker: Do Diamonds Come from Coal?

It's one of Superman's best tricks: hold a lump of coal in his soft, supple Kryptonian hands and casually compress it into a beautiful diamond. Lois Lane swoons. We nod appreciatively, dimly remembering from junior high that this is possible because diamonds are made of carbon, the same element that forms coal. Science!

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Tuesday, September 27

The Debunker: Is There a Clinical Fear of Getting Peanut Butter Stuck on the Roof of Your Mouth?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate National Peanut Day every September 13? Of course, we all do! It's a cruel coincidence that the peanut's big moment comes every fall, just as kids are returning to their increasingly peanut-free schools. If you're not allergic, you probably love peanuts in your trail mix, on sundaes, or in sandwiches (butter form only). But how much do you really know about the protein-rich foodstuff? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here to tell us that a lot of your favorite facts about this beloved snack are just plain nuts.

The Debunker: Is There a Clinical Fear of Getting Peanut Butter Stuck on the Roof of Your Mouth?

There's an eighteen-letter-word that's been a trivia favorite for decades, appearing everywhere from board games to Snapple caps to reference books: arachibutyrophobia. This scary-sounding psychiatric disorder is usually cited as something fairly harmless-seeming: "the fear of getting peanut butter stuck on the roof of your mouth." Boy, psychiatrists have a phobia for everything these days, don't they?!?

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