Tuesday, April 11

The Debunker: Do Blackouts and Blizzards Cause Baby Booms?

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 canceled Coachella on doctor's orders. It could happen.

The Debunker: Do Blackouts and Blizzards Cause Baby Booms?

If anecdotal news accounts are to be believed, nothing gets couples hot and bothered like a good hurricane, power outage, or terrorist attack. Hospitals are readying their maternity wards, the media will report! Exactly nine months after (Hurricane Andrew, the Oklahoma City bombing, Snowpocalypse, etc.) there's going to be a baby explosion! Then when the nine-month-mark arrives, it's easy for reporters to find an obstetrician or hospital that did, indeed, see an upswing. It's counterintuitive, but lots of people believe it's true: a working television and the ability to leave the house are apparently the only thing keeping American couples from a never-ending yearlong wave of fertile unprotected sex.

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Tuesday, April 04

The Debunker: Do Newborn Babies Cry?

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: Do Newborn Babies Cry?

Every parent knows that the old expression "to sleep like a baby" is malarkey. No one sleeps less soundly than a baby—and babies like to make sure that the insomnia is shared with the whole household. But what about the other parenting simile, "to cry like a baby"? Surely that one's safe. As the old song goes, "Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf or see the sky, Then I know why!"

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Tuesday, March 28

The Debunker: Do Goats Eat Tin Cans?

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: Do Goats Eat Tin Cans?

This Debunker installment needs a little caveat. Yes, goats will absolutely eat tin cans… if they are cartoon goats from a 1940s Warner Brothers short. If they are real flesh-and-blood goats, then I'm sorry but the answer is no.

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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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