Tuesday, January 29

The Debunker: Does Hot Water Freeze Faster Than Cold Water?

by Ken Jennings

 

T. S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month,” but January brings the Northern Hemisphere its cruelest temperatures of the year. We’ve asked ex-Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to come in from the cold and put a chill on some of the most persistent cold-weather myths he could think of. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you freeze (yes, we stole that from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dialogue in Batman and Robin.)

Icy Myth #4: Hot Water Freezes Faster Than Cold Water.

It’s a common bit of scientific trivia that, for some mysterious reason, hot water freezes faster than cold water. In general, that’s not true—and would violate the laws of thermodynamics if it were. Think about it this way: for a container of hot water to freeze before a cold one does, it would have to be losing its heat at a faster rate. Why would it do so? And even if it did lose enough heat to “catch up” to the cold sample, the two containers would then be identical, right? Why would the initially-hotter water “remember” its past and continue to cool off faster?

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Monday, January 21

The Debunker: Did St. Bernards Ever Carry Barrels of Brandy Around Their Necks?

by Ken Jennings

 

T. S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month,” but January brings the Northern Hemisphere its cruelest temperatures of the year. We’ve asked ex-Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to come in from the cold and put a chill on some of the most persistent cold-weather myths he could think of. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you freeze (yes, we stole that from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dialogue in Batman and Robin.)

Icy Myth #3: Saint Bernard Rescue Dogs Carried Little Kegs of Brandy to the Snowbound.

The ginormous St. Bernard dog breed, immortalized by Stephen King in his horror classic Cujo, was originally bred as a rescue dog in the Swiss Alps. In fact, the breed is named for the Great St. Bernard Hospice, a monastery atop the Great St. Bernard Pass in Switzerland, where the monks famously used the dogs in rescue operations.

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Tuesday, January 15

The Debunker: Will Sleeping in Extreme Cold Kill You?

by Ken Jennings

 

T. S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month,” but January brings the Northern Hemisphere its cruelest temperatures of the year. We’ve asked ex-Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to come in from the cold and put a chill on some of the most persistent cold-weather myths he could think of. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you freeze (yes, we stole that from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dialogue in Batman and Robin.)

Icy Myth #2: Don’t Fall Asleep in the Cold—You Could Die!

Hypothermia kills over six hundred Americans per year, mostly as a result of exposure during cold-weather recreation. One common symptom of late-stage hypothermia is drowsiness, and so we get the common trope in survival narratives—both real and fictional—of the mountain climber or Arctic trekker who just wants to lie down in the snow and rest. No, he is told by his brave companions! If you lie down, you will never wake up!

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Tuesday, January 08

The Debunker: Do Eskimos Have a Hundred Words for Snow?

by Ken Jennings

 

T. S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month,” but when it comes to weather, January is in fact much crueler, bringing most of the Northern Hemisphere its coldest temperatures of the year. During this frosty season, we’ve asked ex-Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to come in from the cold and put a chill on some of the most persistent cold-weather myths he could think of. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you freeze. (Sorry, we borrowed all these puns from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dialogue in Batman and Robin.)

Icy Myth #1: Eskimos Have, Like, a Hundred Words for Snow.

This classic bit of folklore comes from a surprisingly authoritative academic source: in 1883, the great anthropologist Franz Boas spent a year among the Inuit people of Canada’s Baffin Island, and later wrote that the language there was surprisingly expressive on the subject of snow. He wrote, “Here we find one word, aput, expressing SNOW ON THE GROUND; another one, qana, FALLING SNOW; a third one, piqsirpoq, DRIFTING SNOW; and a fourth one, qimuqsuq, A SNOWDRIFT.” This innocent observation quickly traveled from academic literature to the popular imagination, with the number of words quickly snowballing from Boas’s four up to fifty or more. By 1984, when the notion appeared in The New York Times, the supposed number of Eskimo snow words was one hundred.

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