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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Tuesday, December 08

The Debunker: Did Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" Cause a Mass Panic?

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: Did Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" Cause a Mass Panic?The night before Halloween 1938, boy genius Orson Welles used his CBS Mercury Theatre on the Air program to broadcast a radio play of H. G. Wells's novel The War of the Worlds. The clever adaptation took the form of mock news bulletins from the tiny New Jersey village of Grover's Mill, where a Martian army was supposedly beginning its conquest of Earth. Banner headlines in front pages across America the next day recorded that the faux-news conceit was even more convincing than Welles had expected. "Radio Listeners in Panic," reported The New York Times. "Radio Play Terrifies Nation," said The Boston Globe.

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Tuesday, November 24

The Debunker: Can a Shock Turn Hair White Overnight?

by Ken Jennings

Compare a picture of a fresh-faced Barack Obama in 2008 to a picture of the president from today, and you'll probably notice a difference. It's not just that in today's pictures, the leader of the free world might be using a selfie stick. He's also going to look older, grayer. Well, obviously, seven years have passed. But just 44 days into his presidency, The New York Times ran its first headline wondering if the weight of his office was already graying Obama prematurely. And what about the extreme case, someone's hair turning white overnight due to a sudden fright? This story's been told about historical figures from Thomas More to Marie Antoinette, not to mention Laura Palmer's troubled dad on Twin Peaks.

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Tuesday, November 17

The Debunker: Did Delilah Cut Samson's Hair?

by Ken Jennings

Bad grooming in November: it's not just for the fellas anymore! It's been over a decade since the birth of Movember, the famed mustache-growing event that benefits men's health charities. Now there's No-Shave November, in which of both sexes can show solidarity with cancer patients by skipping the razor or waxing appointment, and donating their usual hair expenses to cancer research. Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame will be with us all month, untangling all manner of hairy misconceptions and follicular falsehoods.

The Debunker: Did Delilah Cut Samson's Hair?

You don't have to be a Sunday school regular to know the story of Samson and Delilah, or at least the broad strokes. Samson is a big strong muscleman who falls for the beautiful Delilah. She's bad news and betrays him. It's a tale as old as time. It's a pretty misogynistic tale as old as time, I guess, but today there are feminist readings of the story as well, if that's what you're into.

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Tuesday, November 10

The Debunker: Does Hair Grow in Thicker After You Shave?

by Ken Jennings

Bad grooming in November: it's not just for the fellas anymore! It's been over a decade since the birth of Movember, the famed mustache-growing event that benefits men's health charities. Now there's No-Shave November, in which of both sexes can show solidarity with cancer patients by skipping the razor or waxing appointment, and donating their usual hair expenses to cancer research. Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame will be with us all month, untangling all manner of hairy misconceptions and follicular falsehoods.

The Debunker: Does Hair Grow in Thicker After You Shave?

Ken Jennings, Quiz Show Champ and Grooming Expert: No.
Skeptical Reader: But I always heard that. That's why you're not supposed to shave your legs/bikini line/etc.
KJ, QSCAGE: This is a very old old wives' tale. But it's still just an old wives' tale. There are clinical studies disproving it going back to the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, 1923.
SR: I don't believe you, Jeopardy! boy.
KJ, QSCAGE: Think about it this way: when you shave a hair off, you're just getting rid of dead cells. The follicle has no idea what you're doing a few millimeters over its head. It just keeps making new stacks of hair cells. How would it know to start growing differently?

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Tuesday, November 03

The Debunker: Are Blondes Going Extinct?

by Ken Jennings

Bad grooming in November: it's not just for the fellas anymore! It's been over a decade since the birth of Movember, the famed mustache-growing event that benefits men's health charities. Now there's No-Shave November, in which of both sexes can show solidarity with cancer patients by skipping the razor or waxing appointment, and donating their usual hair expenses to cancer research. Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame will be with us all month, untangling all manner of hairy misconceptions and follicular falsehoods.

The Debunker: Are Blondes Going Extinct?

It's going to happen somewhere in Finland in the year 2202, the Sunday Times predicted a decade ago. The invention of warp drive? Super Bowl CCXLVIII? Keith Richards's farewell show? Nope: the birth of the world's last natural blond, according to the World Health Organization. The genetics is simple, according to this oft-cited study: the allele (gene variant) for blond hair is recessive, and won't be able to stand up under the onslaught of dominant brown and black hair alleles. If you're blond, you're doomed. (But, as a blond, you're probably not smart enough to read The Times, so you don't even know it.)

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Tuesday, October 27

The Debunker: Is the Devil Called "Lucifer" in the Bible?

by Ken Jennings

October means Halloween is coming—you know, the very witching hour of night when churchyards yawn and graves give up their dead and so on. But if you're still picking out your costume—and you're looking for something a little scarier than Sexy Donald Trump—you might need a refresher course, because it's surprising how much we don't know about some of our most iconic monsters. Luckily, Jeopardy! monster Ken Jennings has unchained his debunking abilities and is ready with the spooky scoop.

The Debunker: Is the Devil Called "Lucifer" in the Bible?

When it comes to a real traditional monster for a trick-or-treating costume, it's hard to beat your classic devil: horns, pitchfork, red pancake makeup. I guess it's not the best choice for a Halloween party at a church or Catholic elementary school or weirdo Evangelical homeschooling collective, but hey, most organizations that would frown on a devil costume probably don't believe in Halloween parties anyway.

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