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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Tuesday, January 10

The Debunker: Was the QWERTY Keyboard Designed to Slow Down Typists?

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 QWERTY Keyboard Designed to Slow Down Typists?

Look at the keyboard on your computer or mobile device. Whose idea was this random jumble of letters? Why not put the alphabet in the A-Z order that all beginning typists already know, or, if you're more interested in speed than ease of use, why not put the most common letters on the "home" finger keys? It seems crazy that someone wanted it to be easier to type an uncommon letter like 'J' or 'K' (the home positions of the strongest fingers of the right hand) than to reach for the 'O,' 'E', or 'N', right?

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Tuesday, January 03

The Debunker: Was a Moth in a Navy Computer the First "Bug"?

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 a Moth in a Navy Computer the First "Bug"?

Grace Hopper was one of the greatest computer pioneers of the 20th century. "Amazing Grace" was a math whiz with a Ph.D from Yale who joined the Naval Reserve during World War II and worked on the early computers that made the Manhattan Project possible. After the war, she helped create UNIVAC, America's first commercial computer; wrote the first compiler in history; and was instrumental in developing early programming languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. By the time she retired from the Navy in 1986, she had achieved the rank of Rear Admiral. Last November, President Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Tuesday, December 27

The Debunker: Did America Hate "New Coke"?

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: Did America Hate "New Coke"?

It's the go-to marketing textbook test case for "how to @#$% everything up at once." In April 1985, the Coca-Cola Company tweaked the flavor of its flagship soda for the first time since it got rid of cocaine in the 1920s. Everyone remembers this as a disastrously tone-deaf misstep by executives who apparently knew nothing about their own product or customers. By summer, Coke announced that its original formula would be coming back as "Classic Coke," and the much-touted "New Coke" was consigned to the dustbin of history. But maybe you can imagine a parallel universe where almost everyone preferred the taste of New Coke and sales actually rose in 1985? Well, my friends, that universe…is ours.

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Tuesday, December 20

The Debunker: Was Michael Jordan Cut from His High School Basketball Team?

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: Was Michael Jordan Cut from His High School Basketball Team?

It was the most shocking high school failure since Einstein flunked math. Looming large in Michael Jordan's legend is the 1978-79 basketball season at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, where 15-year-old Mike Jordan famously did not make his varsity team. No one mentions this more than Jordan himself, who says the sting of the rejection motivated him for his entire career. The Bulls MVP even used to check into hotels using the name of "Leroy Smith," his sophomore friend who did make varsity that same year. At this point, it's pretty much his superhero origin story.

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