Tuesday, October 13

The Debunker: Is Godzilla a Green Lizard?

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 Godzilla a Green Lizard?

Whether he's destroying Tokyo or defending it—or, sometimes, a little of both—the iconic screen monster Godzilla always sports the same look: hundreds of feet tall; atomic breath; ferocious teeth, spines and tail; rough physical proportions of a Japanese man in a rubber suit. And, obviously, he's a green lizard, right? Chigau! [English subtitles: "No way!"]

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Tuesday, October 06

The Debunker: Was Sunlight Fatal for Bram Stoker's Dracula?

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: Was Sunlight Fatal for Bram Stoker's Dracula?

If there's one thing that vampires take seriously, it's their sleep schedule. If they're not back in their casket full of Transylvanian soil by daybreak, they know they'll soon be hissing and sizzling like a strip of bacon. Sunlight is fatal to Dracula, everyone knows that. The photophobia of vampires a powerful trope in our culture, affecting everything from the cinematography of our horror movies to the complexions of our Goth kids at the mall.

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Tuesday, September 22

The Debunker: Did Napoleon's Soldiers Shoot Off the Sphinx's Nose?

by Ken Jennings

Summer's winding down as we enter September—or, as they would have called it in ancient Egypt, Akhet, the height of the rainy season that flooded the Nile once a year and made their entire civilization possible. Ken Jennings has a new book out this month on the land of the pharaohs, so all month he'll be sharing his sphinx-like wisdom with us by debunking millennia of misinformation about the ancient Egyptians. Maybe you've been in "de Nile" for a long time, but finally, here are the Ra facts.

The Debunker: Did Napoleon's Soldiers Shoot Off the Sphinx's Nose?

The Great Sphinx at Giza is the largest single-stone statue in the world, and an iconic symbol of Ancient Egypt. It would be even larger (though less iconic) if it had something that most other statues do: a nose! Napoleon Bonaparte campaigned in Egypt in 1798, and a popular legend has a ball from one of his cannons knocking off the Sphinx's nose. One act of lousy French marksmanship and a four-thousand-year-old statue gets scarred for life!

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Tuesday, September 15

The Debunker: Did a "Curse of King Tut" Strike Down His Tomb's Discoverers?

by Ken Jennings

Summer's winding down as we enter September—or, as they would have called it in ancient Egypt, Akhet, the height of the rainy season that flooded the Nile once a year and made their entire civilization possible. Ken Jennings has a new book out this month on the land of the pharaohs, so all month he'll be sharing his sphinx-like wisdom with us by debunking millennia of misinformation about the ancient Egyptians. Maybe you've been in "de Nile" for a long time, but finally, here are the Ra facts.

The Debunker: Did a "Curse of King Tut" Strike Down His Tomb's Discoverers?

The tomb of Tutankhamen, the "boy Pharaoh" of Egypt's New Kingdom, survived undiscovered for over three thousand years before archaeologist Howard Carter discovered it in 1922. When Carter's financier, Lord Carnarvon, died of blood poisoning two months later, the press began to report that an inscription in King Tut's tomb promised that "Death will slay with his wings whoever disturbs the peace of the pharaoh," and news reports eventually credited almost two dozen deaths to this "curse." The spooky story inspired all kinds of modern folklore, including the Boris Karloff Mummy movie.

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Tuesday, September 08

The Debunker: Was Cleopatra Egyptian?

by Ken Jennings

Summer's winding down as we enter September—or, as they would have called it in ancient Egypt, Akhet, the height of the rainy season that flooded the Nile once a year and made their entire civilization possible. Ken Jennings has a new book out this month on the land of the pharaohs, so all month he'll be sharing his sphinx-like wisdom with us by debunking millennia of misinformation about the ancient Egyptians. Maybe you've been in "de Nile" for a long time, but finally, here are the Ra facts.

The Debunker: Was Cleopatra Egyptian?

Cleopatra is the quintessential Egyptian queen, of course, with all the trappings: the barge, the snakes, the kohl-eyed beauty, the lovestruck suitors. She was the last pharaoh of Egypt, and two of the most powerful men in the world, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, fell for her hard.

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Tuesday, September 01

The Debunker: Did Slaves Build the Pyramids?

by Ken Jennings

Summer's winding down as we enter September—or, as they would have called it in ancient Egypt, Akhet, the height of the rainy season that flooded the Nile once a year and made their entire civilization possible. Ken Jennings has a new book out this month on the land of the pharaohs, so all month he'll be sharing his sphinx-like wisdom with us by debunking millennia of misinformation about the ancient Egyptians. Maybe you've been in "de Nile" for a long time, but finally, here are the Ra facts.

The Debunker: Did Slaves Build the Pyramids?

Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptians pulled off the most precocious construction feat in human history. At a time when the tallest building on Earth was no higher than an oak tree, the Egyptians used six million tons of masonry—enough to pave a road all the way across the United States—to build colossal pyramid-shaped tombs almost five hundred feet into the air. The Great Pyramid of Khufu, the only surviving landmark from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was the tallest building on earth for 3,800 years straight!

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Monday, August 24

The Debunker: Is the Earth Closest to the Sun in the Summer?

by Ken Jennings

Take a break from your fun in the August sun to ask yourself: what do I really know about this giant glowing globe of plasma shining down on my picnic/game of Ultimate Frisbee/clothing-optional beach right now? Given that the Sun is what makes life on Earth possible, it's appalling how much misinformation we've been fed about our nearest star. Speaking of our nearest stars: Ken Jennings, that one guy from Jeopardy!, may not be as bright as the Sun, but he's an expert on debunking myths and misconceptions. All month, he'll be lighting up our stellar misconceptions regarding the sun.

The Debunker: Is the Earth Closest to the Sun in the Summer?

Yes, the Earth is closer to the sun in the summer! But only if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. If you're not Argentine or Australian, read on.

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Tuesday, August 18

The Debunker: Are Sunspots Dark?

by Ken Jennings

Take a break from your fun in the August sun to ask yourself: what do I really know about this giant glowing globe of plasma shining down on my picnic/game of Ultimate Frisbee/clothing-optional beach right now? Given that the Sun is what makes life on Earth possible, it's appalling how much misinformation we've been fed about our nearest star. Speaking of our nearest stars: Ken Jennings, that one guy from Jeopardy!, may not be as bright as the Sun, but he's an expert on debunking myths and misconceptions. All month, he'll be lighting up our stellar misconceptions regarding the sun.

The Debunker: Are Sunspots Dark?

You've probably seen images of sunspots, patches on the face of the Sun where strong magnetic fields are keeping the Sun's normal convection in check. As a result, less energy flows from the Sun's hot interior up to the photosphere, and we get those cool, dark spots—almost black, in the NASA photos you're probably picturing. The effect on the "solar weather" is noticeable enough that some scientists have linked sunspots to climate changes on Earth.

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Tuesday, August 11

The Debunker: Do Sunflowers Turn to Face the Sun?

by Ken Jennings

Take a break from your fun in the August sun to ask yourself: what do I really know about this giant glowing globe of plasma shining down on my picnic/game of Ultimate Frisbee/clothing-optional beach right now? Given that the Sun is what makes life on Earth possible, it's appalling how much misinformation we've been fed about our nearest star. Speaking of our nearest stars: Ken Jennings, that one guy from Jeopardy!, may not be as bright as the Sun, but he's an expert on debunking myths and misconceptions. All month, he'll be lighting up our stellar misconceptions regarding the sun.

The Debunker: Do Sunflowers Turn to Face the Sun?

In English, it's not really clear whether the sunflower is named for the bloom's resemblance to a traditional yellow-rayed sun, or for its reputation for following the Sun across the daytime sky. In some other languages, however, there's no ambiguity. In French, the sunflower is the tournesol—the "sun-turner." In Spanish and Italian, the translation is the same: girasol or girasole. Besides the fact that it produces seeds that baseball players like to spit, this appears to be the sunflower's great claim to fame: everybody knows that it turns its face during the day to track the Sun's movement.

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Tuesday, August 04

The Debunker: Is the Sun Yellow?

by Ken Jennings

Take a break from your fun in the August sun to ask yourself: what do I really know about this giant glowing globe of plasma shining down on my picnic/game of Ultimate Frisbee/clothing-optional beach right now? Given that the Sun is what makes life on Earth possible, it's appalling how much misinformation we've been fed about our nearest star. Speaking of our nearest stars: Ken Jennings, that one guy from Jeopardy!, may not be as bright as the Sun, but he's an expert on debunking myths and misconceptions. All month, he'll be lighting up our stellar misconceptions regarding the sun.

The Debunker: Is the Sun Yellow?

You'd think you'd be on pretty safe ground calling the Sun yellow, wouldn't you? It certainly looks yellow. Scientists call it a "yellow dwarf." Even Superman says he gets his super-powers from Earth's yellow sun—so much brighter than the red sun of his native Krypton.

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