Tuesday, March 21

The Debunker: Was Daylight Saving Time Instituted for Farmers?

by Ken Jennings

March brings the first soft breezes and crocus buds of spring, as the earth awakens after its winter-long sleep. I can only assume this new season of life and fertility explains why the Agricultural Council of America has named March 21, often the first day of spring, as "National Agriculture Day." But how much do you really know about farming? In honor of the equinox, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings is here to plant some seeds of knowledge among your weeds of agricultural ignorance.

The Debunker: Was Daylight Saving Time Instituted for Farmers?

Okay, first of all, it's not "daylight savings time." It's "daylight saving time," singular, according to the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which standardized the summertime clock shift in the United States. (Other countries mostly call it "summer time.") And Benjamin Franklin didn't invent it. He did write a 1784 essay called "An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light" for The Journal of Paris, noting that it was a waste of time to sleep through so much morning daylight in the summer—so why not take his trademark "early to bed, early to rise" advice and kick it up a notch? But (a) he was just joking around, and (b) he was proposing getting people out of bed earlier, not actually changing all the clocks. Serious talk about springing forward and falling back was still a century away.

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Tuesday, March 14

The Debunker: Can Amish People Use Electricity?

by Ken Jennings

March brings the first soft breezes and crocus buds of spring, as the earth awakens after its winter-long sleep. I can only assume this new season of life and fertility explains why the Agricultural Council of America has named March 21, often the first day of spring, as "National Agriculture Day." But how much do you really know about farming? In honor of the equinox, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings is here to plant some seeds of knowledge among your weeds of agricultural ignorance.

The Debunker: Can Amish People Use Electricity?

Bad news for hipsters who have just discovered knitting and beekeeping and home-churned butter: the Amish were doing all your old-timey hobbies before it was cool. These Christian traditionalist sects, a modern offshoot of Swiss Anabaptists, maintain their separation from the secular world by avoiding many modern innovations and luxuries. In the words of "Weird Al" Yankovic's 1996 hit Amish Paradise, they "party like it's 1699." Yankovic also claims that the Amish "shun fancy things like electricity," and that certainly jibes with our idea of candlelit Amish homes, kerosene-lit buggies, and so on. The problem is that this stereotype is almost entirely untrue. Most Amish love electricity—couldn't live without it, in fact.

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Tuesday, March 07

The Debunker: Do Yokels Tip Cows?

by Ken Jennings

March brings the first soft breezes and crocus buds of spring, as the earth awakens after its winter-long sleep. Perhaps this new season of life and fertility explains why the Agricultural Council of America has named March 21, often the first day of spring, as "National Agriculture Day." But how much do you really know about farming? In honor of the equinox, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings is here to plant some seeds of knowledge among your weeds of agricultural ignorance.

The Debunker: Do Yokels Tip Cows?

I first learned about this favorite pastime of rural America when I watched the high school comedy Heathers. Teens in flyover country, Hollywood assured me, were often so bored on weekends that they'd get drunk and wander through the pastures outside of town at night, tipping over unsuspecting cows. This made complete sense to my teenaged brain in 1988. It actually sounded like a lot of fun.

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Tuesday, February 28

The Debunker: Are Potato Chip Bags Filled with Air?

by Ken Jennings

Great news, everyone—the Idaho Potato Commission has named February as its official Potato Lovers' Month! In the commission's own words, this is a time to "explore Idaho® Potato versatility from a different and exciting angle." Some of us in the other forty-nine states sadly don't get to take all of Potato Lovers' Month off work, like they probably do in Idaho, but we can celebrate in other ways. For example, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who lives in an Idaho-adjacent state, to correct any morsels of our potato knowledge that might be a little half-baked.

The Debunker: Are Potato Chip Bags Filled with Air?

It's called "slack fill" in the industry: the strategy of surrounding snack products with empty space. The idea isn't to mislead consumers into thinking their bag contains many more potato chips than it actually does—though I'm sure that doesn't hurt. (Chips are labeled and sold by weight, not volume, so there's no truth-in-advertising lawsuit to be waged here.) The extra cushioning is mostly there to prevent breakage during manufacture and transit.

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Tuesday, February 21

The Debunker: Is Vodka Made from Potatoes?

by Ken Jennings

Great news, everyone—the Idaho Potato Commission has named February as its official Potato Lovers' Month! In the commission's own words, this is a time to "explore Idaho® Potato versatility from a different and exciting angle." Some of us in the other forty-nine states sadly don't get to take all of Potato Lovers' Month off work, like they probably do in Idaho, but we can celebrate in other ways. For example, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who lives in an Idaho-adjacent state, to correct any morsels of our potato knowledge that might be a little half-baked.

The Debunker: Is Vodka Made from Potatoes?

Wine comes from grapes, beer is brewed from barley. And vodka comes from potatoes, right? This was, at least, the received wisdom I grew up with. Perhaps in the Cold War era, it was encouraging to imagine that, while we in the West were sipping on our fancy cognacs and whatnot, the denizens of the Evil Empire had no choice but to distill their grim, brain-fogging tipple from the lowly potato.

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Tuesday, February 14

The Debunker: Are French Fries French?

by Ken Jennings

Great news, everyone—the Idaho Potato Commission has named February as its official Potato Lovers' Month! In the commission's own words, this is a time to "explore Idaho® Potato versatility from a different and exciting angle." Some of us in the other forty-nine states sadly don't get to take all of Potato Lovers' Month off work, like they probably do in Idaho, but we can celebrate in other ways. For example, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who lives in an Idaho-adjacent state, to correct any morsels of our potato knowledge that might be a little half-baked.

The Debunker: Are French Fries French?

Your Debunker likes to supply a clear-cut answer to all questions, especially on topics of such fundamental importance to the nation as French fries. But this is one case where facts pre-date the written history, and so the origins of the humble fry are lost in the greasy mists of time. On the basis of the available evidence, I think it's unlikely that the idea of deep-frying little raw potato wedges originated in France. Here's why...

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Tuesday, February 07

The Debunker: Are Most Nutrients in a Potato Really Found in the Skin?

by Ken Jennings

Great news, everyone—the Idaho Potato Commission has named February as its official Potato Lovers' Month! In the commission's own words, this is a time to "explore Idaho® Potato versatility from a different and exciting angle." Some of us in the other forty-nine states sadly don't get to take all of Potato Lovers' Month off work, like they probably do in Idaho, but we can celebrate in other ways. For example, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who lives in an Idaho-adjacent state, to correct any morsels of our potato knowledge that might be a little half-baked.

The Debunker: Are Most Nutrients in a Potato Really Found in the Skin?

Many of us still feel bad when we peel a fruit or a vegetable, remembering childhood warnings that "that's where the vitamins are!" It makes sense, in a roundabout way. Healthy things are usually unpleasant. The skin is the most unpleasant part of most produce. Therefore, that must also be the healthiest part. Q.E.D.

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Tuesday, January 31

The Debunker: Was the Name of "HAL" in 2001 a Secret Salute to IBM?

by Ken Jennings

January 1, 2017 isn't just New Year's Day… it's also the Internet's 34rd birthday. On January 1, 1983, all the computer systems on the ARPANET, created by the Department of Defense in 1969, were required to switch over to the TCP/IP network protocol that it still uses today, giving birth to the Internet as we know it. But how well do we know it? Onetime computer programmer (and Jeopardy! computer victim) Ken Jennings is here to do a complete systems update on all the Digital Age spam in your mental inbox.

The Debunker: Was the Name of "HAL" in 2001 a Secret Salute to IBM?

Shortly after 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, author Martin Gardner used one of his "Mathematical Games" columns in Scientific American to publicize an ingenious theory discovered by one Mr. John Roycroft of London. Writing to IBM in Britain magazine, Roycroft noted that if you took "HAL," the name of the film's psychotic computer, and advanced each letter one step forward in the alphabet, you'd get "IBM." IBM had advised the makers of 2001 on technical accuracy, and its logo appears twice in the film, once in the cockpit of the Pan Am space-plane, and again on the wrist panel of the space suits aboard the Discovery. Ever since Martin Gardner put the word out, it's been a widespread fan theory that HAL 9000 was so named to secretly indict IBM in the actions of the evil, murderous supercomputer.

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Tuesday, January 24

The Debunker: Was eBay Founded as a Way to Trade Pez Dispensers?

by Ken Jennings

January 1, 2017 isn't just New Year's Day… it's also the Internet's 34rd birthday. On January 1, 1983, all the computer systems on the ARPANET, created by the Department of Defense in 1969, were required to switch over to the TCP/IP network protocol that it still uses today, giving birth to the Internet as we know it. But how well do we know it? Onetime computer programmer (and Jeopardy! computer victim) Ken Jennings is here to do a complete systems update on all the Digital Age spam in your mental inbox.

The Debunker: Was eBay Founded as a Way to Trade Pez Dispensers?

In 1995, Pamela Wesley was a collector of Pez candy dispensers looking to add to her collection. You or I might hit garage sales and flea markets, but Wesley was lucky enough to be engaged to Pierre Omidyar, a computer programmer and early Internet entrepreneur. Omidyar decided to build a website where Wesley could trade Pez to her heart's content, and within two years, he was running AuctionWeb, one of the fastest growing sites on the Internet. In 1997, he renamed it eBay, and the rest is history.

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Tuesday, January 17

The Debunker: Are Apple Products Really "Virus-Proof"?

by Ken Jennings

January 1, 2017 isn't just New Year's Day… it's also the Internet's 34rd birthday. On January 1, 1983, all the computer systems on the ARPANET, created by the Department of Defense in 1969, were required to switch over to the TCP/IP network protocol that it still uses today, giving birth to the Internet as we know it. But how well do we know it? Onetime computer programmer (and Jeopardy! computer victim) Ken Jennings is here to do a complete systems update on all the Digital Age spam in your mental inbox.

The Debunker: Are Apple Products Really "Virus-Proof"?

Fans of Apple devices are a proud and loyal bunch, and for years they've been a little smug about the barrage of viruses and other malware faced by the less fortunate among us who use Windows machines. They thought their beloved Macs were virus-proof, and Apple was happy to let them go right on believing that. "It doesn't get PC viruses!" bragged one Macintosh ad campaign. At best, this is like saying that oak trees don't get Dutch elm disease: technically true, but suspiciously silent on other, oak-specific diseases.

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