Tuesday, March 15

The Debunker: What Color Did Ninjas Wear?

by Ken Jennings

In 2009, a global cabal of artists, designers, and scientists called the International Colour Association decided to create a day to honour—er, "honor"—color in all its forms. International Colour Day is now celebrated every March 21, since that's the spring equinox, the day when light and darkness are in perfect balance. All month, we're going to have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings with us, debunking a full spectrum of chromatic claptrap. Your trivia knowledge will soon be in the pink.

The Debunker: What Color Did Ninjas Wear?

Writing these "Debunker" columns, I often feel like a professional buzzkill. Is there something you think is cool? The red telephone between the President and the Soviets? Porcupines shooting their quills? Pirates making treasure maps? Yeah, none of these things ever happened. So I couldn't be more relieved to tell you today: ninjas were real. In medieval Japan, they were master spies, saboteurs, and assassins. The skulking across rooftops, the disguises, the darts and throwing stars—it's true. All of it.

read more…

 

Tuesday, March 08

The Debunker: Was the "Hotline" of the Cold War a Red Telephone?

by Ken Jennings

In 2009, a global cabal of artists, designers, and scientists called the International Colour Association decided to create a day to honour—er, "honor"—color in all its forms. International Colour Day is now celebrated every March 21, since that's the spring equinox, the day when light and darkness are in perfect balance. All month, we're going to have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings with us, debunking a full spectrum of chromatic claptrap. Your trivia knowledge will soon be in the pink.

The Debunker: Was the "Hotline" of the Cold War a Red Telephone?

Of all the emergency hotlines in geopolitical history (Seoul–Pyonyang, Islamabad–New Delhi, Commissioner Gordon–Batman) none is more iconic than the direct Cold War-era link between Washington, D.C. and Moscow. You know, the gleaming red telephone on the desk of the Oval Office. You've seen it in movies and spy novels going all the way back to Fail-Safe in 1964. But prepare to be disappointed: the so-called "red telephone" was never in the White House. And it wasn't red. And it wasn't a telephone.

read more…

 

Tuesday, February 23

The Debunker: Is Curious George a Monkey?

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: Is Curious George a Monkey?

"What a nice little monkey!" thinks the Man with the Yellow Hat, when he first meets his famous friend in the 1941 children's classic Curious George. Then he picks George up, stuffs him in a bag, and takes him out of Africa on a boat. "George was sad, but he was still a little curious," authors Margret and Hans Rey tell us, in what today seems to be some kind of super-problematic take on colonialism or animal abuse or slavery or something.

read more…

 

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.)

read more…

 

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?

read more…

 

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!"

read more…

 

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?

read more…

 

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.

read more…

 

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.

read more…

 

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?

read more…