Thursday, March 06

The Trivial Eye: Foreign Posters for Hollywood Movies

by Jason Toon

These days, the posters for Hollywood movies usually look pretty much the same everywhere, except for the language. But there was a time when it was more common for local distributors and exhibitors put together their own posters to appeal to local audiences. And their re-imaginings can be more interesting than the movies themselves. Sometimes they'd interpret the movie's theme symbolically. Sometimes they'd latch on to some detail that the American producers considered secondary. Sometimes they'd take a completely different tone or visual style. And sometimes they'd make some crap up and hope it got people in the door. Can you recognize any of these well-known Hollywood flicks from their foreign posters?

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Tuesday, March 04

The Debunker: Are There “Left-Brained” and “Right-Brained” People?

by Ken Jennings

Did you know that the second week of March is Brain Awareness Week around the globe? You didn’t? You weren’t aware of your brain? Conscious of your consciousness? Well, get with the program. March is perhaps the brainiest month of the year—it’s also when we celebrate the 1879 birthday of famous smarty-pants Albert Einstein, and the 1946 beginning of Mensa intelligence testing. But it turns out people will believe just about anything they hear about what’s going up between their ears. We’ve asked Ken Jennings to fact-check some particularly lame-brained misconceptions about gray matter.

The Debunker: Are There “Left-Brained” and “Right-Brained” People?

Your buttoned-down computer programmer friend Gary is detail-oriented and analytical. Not long ago, he would have carried a slide rule with him at all times in his jacket pocket. “Left-brained!” you announce knowingly. But your free spirit friend Maya is creative and intuitive. She’s written poetry since third grade and has recently taken up painting. Regardless of weather, she is probably wearing a scarf right now. “Right-brained!” you decide.

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Thursday, February 27

The Trivial Eye: Board Game Battlefields

by Jason Toon

The only good wars are the ones fought around a table with your friends. No casualties, no shattered cities or burned fields or starving refugees, and it's all over in a few hours. Here are eight game boards where millions of us have discovered the pleasures of phony wars. Some were total global conflicts, others mere skirmishes. Do you recognize these play battlefields?

 

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Tuesday, February 25

The Debunker: Did Atlas Hold Up the Earth?

by Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, was a trivia-obsessed ten-year-old, and now he’s raising a few quiz kids of his own. This month he launches a new series of amazing-facts books for kids, The Junior Genius Guides. Since the first two books in the series introduce young readers to Maps and Geography and Greek Mythology, respectively, we’ve asked him to set us straight this month and debunk some popular misconceptions about classical mythology, which has always been all Greek to us. Myths about myths?! May Zeus have mercy on our souls.

The Debunker: Did Atlas Hold Up the Earth?

The Titan Atlas probably has the worst job in Greek mythology. You’ve seen him in statues and on the cover of unreadable Ayn Rand books, hoisting that giant ball on his shoulders night and day. But you might be surprised to find that, in ancient myths, Atlas does not hold up the Earth. Consider: if he did, what would he stand on?

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Thursday, February 20

 

Tuesday, February 18

The Debunker: Does The Iliad Tell the Story of the Trojan Horse?

by Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, was a trivia-obsessed ten-year-old, and now he’s raising a few quiz kids of his own. This month he launches a new series of amazing-facts books for kids, The Junior Genius Guides. Since the first two books in the series introduce young readers to Maps and Geography and Greek Mythology, respectively, we’ve asked him to set us straight this month and debunk some popular misconceptions about classical mythology, which has always been all Greek to us. Myths about myths?! May Zeus have mercy on our souls.

The Debunker: Does The Iliad Tell the Story of the Trojan Horse?

To this day, we still use the proverb “Beware Greeks bearing gifts,” remembering the end of the Trojan War. Unable to scale the impregnable walls of Troy, the Greeks rely on stratagem: Odysseus designs a giant wooden horse, and the Greeks pretend to leave Troy by ship. The gullible Trojans think, “Nice! Free horse!” and wheel it into the city. By night, the Greek army sneaks out of the hollow horse and takes over Troy.

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Thursday, February 13

The Trivial Eye: Hair of the Doctor

by Jason Toon

Different actors, different personas, but most significantly, different hair: so goes the evolution of the character we insist on calling Doctor Who. (We're masochists for outraged, pedantic lectures from geeks.) For a time-traveler, the Doctor sure has followed the hairstyle trends of his time, hasn't he? Keep that in mind as you try to match the hair with the Doctor.

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Tuesday, February 11

The Debunker: Did King Midas Turn His Daughter into Gold?

by Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, was a trivia-obsessed ten-year-old, and now he’s raising a few quiz kids of his own. This month he launches a new series of amazing-facts books for kids, The Junior Genius Guides. Since the first two books in the series introduce young readers to Maps and Geography and Greek Mythology, respectively, we’ve asked him to set us straight this month and debunk some popular misconceptions about classical mythology, which has always been all Greek to us. Myths about myths?! May Zeus have mercy on our souls.

The Debunker: Did King Midas Turn His Daughter into Gold?

Readers of Greek mythology know that Midas, king of Phrygia, was the Kevin Bacon of classical times: he shows up in story after story, and always does something awesome. My favorite is the myth where he gets asked to judge a divine music contest, and refuses to admit that Apollo is a better musician than Pan. Apollo punishes him with donkey ears, a fact which he desperately tries to hide from everyone. But his barber finds out, and is dying to tell the secret. Finally, he goes down to the riverbank and tells the reeds there, “Midas has ass’s ears!” But the reeds begin to whisper that phrase to everyone who passes by, and Midas puts the barber to death. Talk about blaming the messenger.

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Tuesday, February 04

The Debunker: Did Pandora Open a Box?

by Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, was a trivia-obsessed ten-year-old, and now he’s raising a few quiz kids of his own. This month he launches a new series of amazing-facts books for kids, The Junior Genius Guides. Since the first two books in the series introduce young readers to Maps and Geography and Greek Mythology, respectively, we’ve asked him to set us straight this month and debunk some popular misconceptions about classical mythology, which has always been all Greek to us. Myths about myths?! May Zeus have mercy on our souls.

The Debunker: Did Pandora Open a Box?

Like the streaming music service that became her namesake, Pandora was engineered to be a perfect match. According to Hesiod, she was history’s first woman, sculpted from clay by the gods and given all good gifts (“Pandora” is actually Greek for “all-gifted”) in order to become the wife of the Titan Epimetheus. She made him very happy—that is, until she released all the evils of the world, condemning the human race to millennia of toil, sickness, and evil. Once all the bad stuff has escaped, only “hope” is left to cling to.

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Tuesday, January 28

The Debunker: Do Mice Really Like Cheese?

by Ken Jennings

It’s now 2014, a full decade since Jeopardy! made Ken Jennings mildly famous, but he’s still waging his tireless war against misinformation in our weekly “Debunker” column. Did you know that January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day? Or that David Seville of “The Chipmunks” fame was born on January 27? By the end of this month, of course, the most famous rodent-related day on the calendar, Groundhog Day, will be just hours away. In honor of our small woodland friends, most of whom are probably hibernating right now, Ken will spend the month of January gnawing away at all the rodent-related facts you only thought you knew.

The Debunker: Do Mice Really Like Cheese?

Animated mice, I am quick to note, love cheese. In 1986’s immigration parable An American Tail, we learn that animated mice will even cross an ocean on the chance of finding a paradise where, allegedly, “the streets are paved with cheese.” But the mouse-cheese link predates Tom and Jerry by thousands of years, being found in the letters of the Roman writer Seneca. It’s possible that the ancients associated mice with cheese because cheese, unlike other stored food items, needed to be left out to “breathe,” and was therefore more susceptible to household pests. Or maybe our forefathers, looking to “build a better mousetrap,” tried aromatic baits like cheese in hopes of bringing all the mice to the yard.

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