Tuesday, July 05

The Debunker: Are Power Lines Insulated?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Are Power Lines Insulated?

If you've ever watched birds sitting idly on power lines, footloose and electrocution-free, you might have inferred that the black coating on the outside of the wires is rubber or some other kind of insulating material. After all, as a nation, we wouldn't be stringing hundreds of thousands of miles of hot electric death across the landscape, would we? Surely we're better than that.

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Tuesday, June 28

The Debunker: Was "No Irish Need Apply" a Myth?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Was "No Irish Need Apply" a Myth?

"I'm a decent boy just landed from the town of Ballyfad,
I want a situation, yes, and I want it very bad.
I have seen employment advertised. 'It's just the thing,' says I,
'But the dirty spalpeen ended with NO IRISH NEED APPLY.'"

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Tuesday, June 21

The Debunker: Is Cinco de Mayo Mexico's "Fourth of July"?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Is Cinco de Mayo Mexico's "Fourth of July"?

Boy oh boy do we white people look forward to the fifth of May! That's when we can wear sombreros and drink frozen Margaritas and feel like we're saluting diversity! After all, Cinco de Mayo is a pretty important holiday in Mexico. It's like their independence day, or something.

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Tuesday, June 14

The Debunker: Did German Almost Become the National Language?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Did German Almost Become the National Language?

There's a legend that's been circulating since at least the 1840s on both sides of the Atlantic, from travel literature to school lectures to Ann Landers columns. According to these authorities, in 1794, Congress came within one vote of making German the official language of the United States. When I heard first heard this story growing up, it seemed strange but not impossible. In the mists of early federal experimentation, we almost had all kinds of weird stuff. Ben Franklin once wrote that the turkey should be our national bird. John Adams wanted to call the president "Your Highness." The American rulebook was still being written back then—why not stick it to the English by bailing on their language? After all, fully nine percent of early Americans were already native German speakers, making them the nation's biggest linguistic minority.

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Tuesday, June 07

The Debunker: Did Immigrants' Names Get Changed at Ellis Island?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Did Immigrants' Names Get Changed at Ellis Island?

American family lore is full of tales of surnames being changed for the New World: Guttmans becoming Goodmans, DiMartinos becoming Martins, Szelbracikowskis becoming Shelbricks. In many accounts, this change is the fault of a clueless or capricious clerk at Ellis Island, like the harried immigration officer who accidentally renames Vito Andolini "Corleone" in The Godfather, Part II when he mistakes the name of Vito's Sicilian village for his surname. Consider the poor immigrants, having given up so many worldly possessions to make it to these shores, who now discovers that they won't even be allowed to keep their last name. Sad!

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Tuesday, May 24

The Debunker: Where Do Fortune Cookies Come From?

by Ken Jennings

May is Asian heritage month in the U.S. and Canada, but most of us probably celebrate the Asian diaspora year-round by enjoying one of the greatest gifts from the other edge of the Pacific Rim: Asian food. But sometimes, in our uncommon hurry to enjoy the ramen or the curry, we may find ourselves slurping up all kinds of bad takes along with our good takeout. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame is obviously not Asian, but (fun fact!) he grew up in Asia, which sort of qualifies him to set us straight on some of the biggest culinary misconceptions about the world's biggest continent. Check, please!

The Debunker: Where Do Fortune Cookies Come From?

Fortune cookies! Where else would you get great life advice like "☺ Your fondest dream will come true ☺ 07 22 31 43 05 30 "? A Chinese meal wouldn't be complete without this dessert that, mysteriously, nobody likes but nobody ever skips. Actually, I should correct that. Believe it or not, there is one place where you can eat Chinese food without fortune cookies appearing with the bill, and that's because no one there has ever even heard of them. That place is China.

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Tuesday, May 17

The Debunker: What Utensils Should I Use for Thai Food?

by Ken Jennings

May is Asian heritage month in the U.S. and Canada, but most of us probably celebrate the Asian diaspora year-round by enjoying one of the greatest gifts from the other edge of the Pacific Rim: Asian food. But sometimes, in our uncommon hurry to enjoy the ramen or the curry, we may find ourselves slurping up all kinds of bad takes along with our good takeout. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame is obviously not Asian, but (fun fact!) he grew up in Asia, which sort of qualifies him to set us straight on some of the biggest culinary misconceptions about the world's biggest continent. Check, please!

The Debunker: What Utensils Should I Use for Thai Food?

Asking for a fork at an Asian restaurant might be one of life's most demoralizing small defeats—or small embarrassments, if it's your visiting parent who's harassing the waiter. Eating competently with chopsticks, the paired sticks first used as utensils in China over six thousand years ago, is a neat shorthand for worldliness and open-mindedness and, in general, having your culinary s*** together.

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Tuesday, May 10

The Debunker: Does MSG Cause "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome"?

by Ken Jennings

May is Asian heritage month in the U.S. and Canada, but most of us probably celebrate the Asian diaspora year-round by enjoying one of the greatest gifts from the other edge of the Pacific Rim: Asian food. But sometimes, in our uncommon hurry to enjoy the ramen or the curry, we may find ourselves slurping up all kinds of bad takes along with our good takeout. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame is obviously not Asian, but (fun fact!) he grew up in Asia, which sort of qualifies him to set us straight on some of the biggest culinary misconceptions about the world's biggest continent. Check, please!

The Debunker: Does MSG Cause "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome"?

In 1968, a Chinese-American doctor named Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a light-hearted letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, wondering about a strange health complaint he noticed after eating in American Chinese restaurants: numbness in the back, heart palpitations, and general weakness. Dr. Kwok wondered what to blame this on. Chinese cooking wine? Foods high in sodium? Dozens of readers eagerly responded that they had noticed "Chinese restaurant syndrome" as well, and the conversation began to center around the food additive MSG.

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Tuesday, May 03

The Debunker: What Ingredient Makes Sushi Sushi?

by Ken Jennings

May is Asian heritage month in the U.S. and Canada, but most of us probably celebrate the Asian diaspora year-round by enjoying one of the greatest gifts from the other edge of the Pacific Rim: Asian food. But sometimes, in our uncommon hurry to enjoy the ramen or the curry, we may find ourselves slurping up all kinds of bad takes along with our good takeout. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame is obviously not Asian, but (fun fact!) he grew up in Asia, which sort of qualifies him to set us straight on some of the biggest culinary misconceptions about the world's biggest continent. Check, please!

The Debunker: What Ingredient Makes Sushi Sushi?

The traditional Japanese treat of sushi hasn't always been appreciated on these shores. When the Ladies' Home Journal introduced Americans to Japanese cuisine in 1929, the editors "purposely omitted…any recipes using the delicate and raw tuna fish which is sliced wafer thin and served iced." America wasn't even eating pizza yet in 1929. It sure as hell weren't ready for cold raw tuna as an entrée.

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Tuesday, April 26

The Debunker: Are Dinosaurs Extinct?

by Ken Jennings

If there's one thing everyone knows about the dinosaurs, it's that they're dead. In fact, they're synonymous with deadness, like disco or doornails or Francisco Franco. About 65 million years ago, an asteroid collided with Earth, splashing down in a shallow sea off the coast of what is today Mexico. The dinosaurs, probably already made vulnerable by a million years of climate shifts, didn't stand a chance against a rock the size of Manhattan. Mile-high tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes, shock waves circling the globe, rains of molten glass, a year of complete darkness. It was literally lights out for them.

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