Tuesday, June 27

The Debunker: Are Praying Mantises Protected by Law?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Are Praying Mantises Protected by Law?

I've already debunked one common mistake in the title, which in my opinion puts me way ahead of the game already. The name of the insect is often incorrectly spelled "preying mantis," and that's understandable, since mantises are famed for their ability to eat other bugs and even each other. (The female mantis will often devour her mate after sex, a dream come true if the male mantis is a "vore" fetishist, but a pretty raw deal otherwise.) But no, the name refers to the posture of the insect's bent forearms, which look a little like hands clasped in prayer.

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Wednesday, June 21

The Debunker: Will Earwigs Nest in Your Ear?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Will Earwigs Nest in Your Ear?

The word "earwig" comes from the Middle English "eare wicga," meaning "ear-beetle." There are similar etymologies in at least six other European languages, and The Oxford English Dictionary credits that to a folk belief, at least a thousand years old, that the insects like to burrow through people's ears to their brain, where they nest, lay eggs, and cause insanity. This is a horrific idea that it's probably best not to imagine too much—though at least it gave us that crazy scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Chekov gets mind-controlled by the alien earwig (oh, all right, the Ceti eel) that Khan sticks in his spacesuit helmet.

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Tuesday, June 13

The Debunker: Does a Bumblebee's Flight Defy Physics?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Does a Bumblebee's Flight Defy Physics?

In popular culture, the fact that the roly-poly little bumblebee can fly with those flimsy little wings is often used an inspiring bit of motivational puffery. "By the laws of physics, science says that a bumblebee shouldn't even be able to fly!" we are told. "And yet it can." The implication is a little confusing: if I'm not able to accomplish tasks that literally violate physical law, then I'm falling disappointingly short of my full potential? That seems like an awful high bar.

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Tuesday, June 06

The Debunker: Are Ants Hard Workers?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Are Ants Hard Workers?

Every time you see an ant, it always looks like it has someplace to be, right? Ants are the head-down, earbuds-in-ear, man-on-a-mission fast-walkers of the insect kingdom. Ants are in a hurry. When Aesop wanted an industrious animal for his fable about provident hard work, he chose the ant as his protagonist, the one who tells off the hungry, lazy grasshopper. Get a job, grasshopper!

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Tuesday, May 30

The Debunker: Should You Drink Cranberry Juice for Urinary Tract Infection?

by Ken Jennings

It's May, and that means only one thing to all men and women of good will: National Beverage Day on the sixth of this month! We all love a refreshing beverage, but how much do we really know about them? If you're thirsty for knowledge, take a deep, satisfying swig of Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who will be debunking drink-related disinformation all month. As Alexander Pope once said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing, / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring"!

The Debunker: Should You Drink Cranberry Juice for Urinary Tract Infection?

You should drink cranberry juice because it's delicious! But I'm sorry, ladies: it's not going to affect your peeing. Except in the normal way, that is. If you drink too much of it, you're going to need to pee in about an hour.

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Tuesday, May 23

The Debunker: Was the Boston Tea Party a Protest Against High Taxes?

by Ken Jennings

It's May, and that means only one thing to all men and women of good will: National Beverage Day on the sixth of this month! We all love a refreshing beverage, but how much do we really know about them? If you're thirsty for knowledge, take a deep, satisfying swig of Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who will be debunking drink-related disinformation all month. As Alexander Pope once said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing, / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring"!

The Debunker: Was the Boston Tea Party a Protest Against High Taxes?

When the American colonists heard about the Tea Act of 1773, they did exactly what you or I would do in that situation: dressed as Native Americans, boarded three merchant ships, and destroyed almost fifty tons of tea by dumping it into Boston harbor. Most American schoolkids, entranced by the romance and wanton vandalism of that night, tend to logically assume that the Tea Act had raised taxes on tea, and that's why the Bostonians were so pissed off. But that's not true—in fact, the Tea Act lowered taxes, and lowered tea prices. Wait, what?

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Tuesday, May 16

The Debunker: Is the Ideal Martini "Shaken, Not Stirred"?

by Ken Jennings

It's May, and that means only one thing to all men and women of good will: National Beverage Day on the sixth of this month! We all love a refreshing beverage, but how much do we really know about them? If you're thirsty for knowledge, take a deep, satisfying swig of Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who will be debunking drink-related disinformation all month. As Alexander Pope once said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing, / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring"!

The Debunker: Is the Ideal Martini "Shaken, Not Stirred"?

Ian Fleming's super-spy James Bond is a man of elegant tastes. Fleming's elaborately detailed prose made sure readers knew that Bond shared his preference for fast Bentleys, tailored serge suits, caviar with plenty of toast, and custom-blended Morlands cigarettes. But Bond's most famous indulgence is the martini, which he orders thirty-five times in Fleming's oeuvre. And as early as Casino Royale, he's instructing barmen to "shake it very well until it's ice-cold." Sean Connery went on to turn "shaken, not shtirred" into a much-imitated catchphrase. In 2005, it was voted one of the 100 most memorable movie quotes of all time by the American Film Institute.

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Tuesday, May 09

The Debunker: Was the Famous McDonald's "Hot Coffee" Lawsuit Frivolous?

by Ken Jennings

It's May, and that means only one thing to all men and women of good will: National Beverage Day on the sixth of this month! We all love a refreshing beverage, but how much do we really know about them? If you're thirsty for knowledge, take a deep, satisfying swig of Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who will be debunking drink-related disinformation all month. As Alexander Pope once said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing, / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring"!

The Debunker: Was the Famous McDonald's "Hot Coffee" Lawsuit Frivolous?

It's Exhibit A for people who blather on about scheming lawyers, credulous bleeding-heart juries, and the damage done to this country by frivolous lawsuits. In 1992, a 79-year-old woman named Stella Liebeck ordered a cup of coffee from a McDonald's drive-thru, and then proceeded to spill it all over herself after she'd driven away. Despite the fact that she'd spilled the coffee on herself, through no fault of McDonald's employees, a jury awarded her $2.86 million. What an injustice! What happened to the tough, self-sufficient Americans who tamed the frontier, am I right? When did we become such sissified, litigious snowflakes?

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Tuesday, May 02

The Debunker: Does Dr. Pepper Have Prunes in It?

by Ken Jennings

It's May, and that means only one thing to all men and women of good will: National Beverage Day on the sixth of this month! We all love a refreshing beverage, but how much do we really know about them? If you're thirsty for knowledge, take a deep, satisfying swig of Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who will be debunking drink-related disinformation all month. As Alexander Pope once said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing, / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring"!

The Debunker: Does Dr. Pepper Have Prunes in It?

The flavor of Dr. Pepper is hard to pin down. It's the oldest soft drink still found on supermarket shelves nationwide, having made its debut at a Waco, Texas corner drugstore in 1885. The company says that its secret formula is a mix of no less than twenty-three different flavors, and the recipe is supposedly split into two halves kept in the safety deposit boxes of two different Dallas banks, so that no single soda-pirating criminal could ever abscond with it.

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Tuesday, April 25

The Debunker: Are Babies Born With Kneecaps?

by Ken Jennings

Babies: they're everywhere, especially when we fly coach. But how much do we really know about them? Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame asked if he could spend April debunking some persistent misconceptions about babies, in hopes that it will persuade the universe to deliver Beyoncé's twins this month. Hey—she cancelled Coachella on doctor's orders. It could happen.

The Debunker: Are Babies Born With Kneecaps?

This one was a favorite on those "Re: FW: Re: FW: FW: amazing trivia facts" emails that used to circle the Earth thirty times a day. Do those lists still exist? Did they ever colonize Facebook and find a new life? Anyway, alongside other dubious things on those lists (your heart stops when you sneeze! Winston Churchill was born in a ladies' room during a dance!) the nation's aunts and grandmothers very much wanted you to know one important fact about babies: they have no kneecaps.

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