Tuesday, February 16

The Debunker: Did the Monkees Play Their Own Instruments?

by Ken Jennings


According to the Chinese zodiac, it's been the "Year of the Goat" since last February, and we're getting pretty tired of the nonstop goat-related festivities. Luckily, the lunar new year this month begins the "Year of the Monkey," so the future looks bright. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings tells us that a lot of stuff we thought we knew about our mischievous treetop friends is just bananas. All month, he'll be here to put a stop to all the monkey business.

The Debunker: Did the Monkees Play Their Own Instruments?

"Madness!! Auditions," read the September 9, 1965 ad in Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. "Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running Parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank's types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview." (Ben Frank's was a hip coffee shop well known to L.A. scenesters of the time.)

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Tuesday, February 09

The Debunker: Did Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan Swing from Vines?

by Ken Jennings


According to the Chinese zodiac, it's been the "Year of the Goat" since last February, and we're getting pretty tired of the nonstop goat-related festivities. Luckily, the lunar new year this month begins the "Year of the Monkey," so the future looks bright. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings tells us that a lot of stuff we thought we knew about our mischievous treetop friends is just bananas. All month, he'll be here to put a stop to all the monkey business.

The Debunker: Did Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan Swing from Vines?

"Why didn't Tarzan visit Jane?" asks the old joke. "Because her vine was busy." You can tell this is an old joke because it requires knowledge of two things that haven't existed in decades: busy signals, and Tarzan movies. But if we as a culture retain any pre-Disney knowledge of the greatest pulp character in literary history, it's probably this: sometimes he does that yell and swings on those vines. Just like the apes that raised him, right?

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Tuesday, February 02

The Debunker: Did Humans Evolve from Monkeys?

by Ken Jennings

According to the Chinese zodiac, it's been the "Year of the Goat" since last February, and we're getting pretty tired of the nonstop goat-related festivities. Luckily, the lunar new year this month begins the "Year of the Monkey," so the future looks bright. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings tells us that a lot of stuff we thought we knew about our mischievous treetop friends is just bananas. All month, he'll be here to put a stop to all the monkey business.

The Debunker: Did Humans Evolve from Monkeys?

In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin was careful never to apply his new theory of "natural selection" to the origin of man, but readers were quick to connect the dots. Before the book was even published, minister John Leifchild was complaining in the Athenaeum about the new "belief that man descends from the monkeys." This caricature of evolutionary theory was so fixed in the public mind that the 1925 trial of John Scopes, for teaching evolution in small-town Tennessee, is still known as the "Scopes Monkey Trial." Prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan got big laughs during the trial for reading excerpts from The Descent of Man and then complaining to the crowd that, according to Darwin, humans were descended "not even from American monkeys, but from Old World monkeys!"

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Tuesday, January 26

The Debunker: Who Was Conceived in the Immaculate Conception?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Who Was Conceived in the Immaculate Conception?

In the Gospel of Luke, the Virgin Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that her child will be "the Son of the Most High" and will reign over Israel forever. Mary is a little taken aback: she's a virgin! It's even in her name! The angel explains further, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." In other words, Jesus gets conceived without a mortal father. That's the immaculate conception, right?

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Tuesday, January 19

The Debunker: Do Hindus Worship Cows?

by Ken Jennings
Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Do Hindus Worship Cows?

You've might think of it as a quasi-racist movie trope until you actually visit India, but it's absolutely true. Cattle do wander freely through the streets of Indian cities and towns, even taking mid-street naps in busy major cities. And motorists don't even honk at them. They're a real but unavoidable city annoyance, like pigeons to a New Yorker, or tourists to a Parisian.

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Tuesday, January 12

The Debunker: Does the Quran Prohibit Images of Muhammad?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Does the Quran Prohibit Images of Muhammad?

A lot of millennia-old quibbles over religious scripture fall into the "minutiae" category today. New Testament scholars may disagree as to whether the apostle called Nathanael and the one called Bartholomew were really the same guy. Devout Jews may have different opinions on whether or not it's okay to use an elevator on the Sabbath. But the doctrinal disagreement over if and how it's okay to depict Muhammad, the founding prophet of Islam, is a whole different ball game. Having led directly to death threats in Denmark, riots from Nigeria to Indonesia, and terrorist attacks in Paris, the iconography of Muhammad is very much a live issue today, almost 1,400 years after his death.

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Tuesday, January 05

The Debunker: Was the Buddha Really Fat?

by Ken Jennings
Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Was the Buddha Really Fat?

"Rid yourself all worldly attachments," said the Buddha. "All worldly attachments." That's a list that would presumably include Twinkies and nachos. So if the founder of Buddhism was such an ascetic, if he was traveling the dusty roads of ancient India focused only on enlightenment, then—and forgive me for my bluntness here—how did he put on all that weight? Did he have, like, a glandular thing?

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Tuesday, December 29

The Debunker: Does the Mississippi River Divide All the 'K' Radio Stations from the 'W' Ones?

by Ken Jennings

On December 12, 1901, Italian scientist Guglielmo Marconi stood on a hill overlooking St. John's, Newfoundland, and received the first radio message ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean. That fateful message was just a few Morse pulses—the letter 'S', in fact—but it changed the face of the twentieth century. This month marks the 114th anniversary of Marconi's milestone, so we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to get on the air and clear the air about some of the most appalling misconceptions from radio's first century.

The Debunker: Does the Mississippi River Divide All the 'K' Radio Stations from the 'W' Ones?

This may mystify Millennials, but TV and radio stations haven't always been able to call themselves anything they wanted. Wait, let me go back further. There used to be a thing called "local TV and radio," and broadcasters used three- or four-digit letter combinations to ID their stations. Growing up in the western United States, all our local stations started with a 'K'; it was only by watching Mr. Rogers and other PBS shows from back east (and, obviously, WKRP in Cincinnati) that I realized that other, weirder parts of the country used 'W' as their station prefix. My parents explained that 'K' was used west of the Mississippi River and 'W' in the east. They meant well, but it turns out that's not exactly the case.

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Tuesday, December 22

The Debunker: Was the Titanic the First Ship to Issue an "SOS"?

by Ken Jennings

On December 12, 1901, Italian scientist Guglielmo Marconi stood on a hill overlooking St. John's, Newfoundland, and received the first radio message ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean. That fateful message was just a few Morse pulses—the letter 'S', in fact—but it changed the face of the twentieth century. This month marks the 114th anniversary of Marconi's milestone, so we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to get on the air and clear the air about some of the most appalling misconceptions from radio's first century.

The Debunker: Was the Titanic the First Ship to Issue an "SOS"?

James Cameron's Titanic taught its fans two things. First, never trust Billy Zane. Second, the standard radio distress call in 1912 was not the familiar Morse SOS in use today. Cameron is careful to explain this little historical curio to his late-'90s, Hanson-listening audience.

WIRELESS OPERATOR:
CQD, sir?

CAPTAIN SMITH:
That's right. The distress call. (Looks at camera.)
CQD. (Does "Jim Halpert face.")

In movie theaters, the scene ended there. On the DVD, a deleted scene shows the wireless crew deciding to mix in the new-fangled distress signal SOS as well. "It may be our only chance to use it," one jokes.

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Tuesday, December 15

The Debunker: What Does "Over and Out" Mean?

by Ken Jennings

On December 12, 1901, Italian scientist Guglielmo Marconi stood on a hill overlooking St. John's, Newfoundland, and received the first radio message ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean. That fateful message was just a few Morse pulses—the letter 'S', in fact—but it changed the face of the twentieth century. This month marks the 114th anniversary of Marconi's milestone, so we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to get on the air and clear the air about some of the most appalling misconceptions from radio's first century.

The Debunker: What Does "Over and Out" Mean?

James Bond in Goldfinger. Captain Quint in Jaws. On TV, Maxwell Smart's "Chief," Major Frank Burns, and Rod Serling. These are among the thousands of on-screen icons of authority and competence who have ended a radio communication with the immortal phrase "Over and out." It's a cliché of movie military men, TV cops, and kids with walkie-talkies. When you want to sound cool and official over the radio, "Over and out" are the prepositions you use to sign off from transmitting.

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