Thursday, April 03

The Trivial Eye: Young Adult Novels

by Jason Toon
Today, the day after International Children's Book Day, seems like a good time to celebrate Young Adult novels. Of course, in a better world, they would just be called novels. Those who judge a book by which section it's shelved in are missing out. The best YA fiction can be as serious, as funny, and as moving as anything on the latest prize shortlist - and I'm sure at least one of these classics has left an indelible impression on you, too.

 

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Tuesday, April 01

The Debunker: Did Henry VIII Divorce Any of His Wives?

by Ken Jennings

Put on a purple hat and rent some Corgis: Queen Elizabeth II is turning 87 years old this month! (Actually, the queen celebrates her official public birthday in June, because the weather is likely to be nicer then. That is a true fact. But she was actually born in April.) In honor of Her Majesty, we’ve asked Jeopardy! smart-arse Ken Jennings to spend the month debunking misinformation about the monarchy. Apparently we’ve been royally misled for years.

The Debunker: Did Henry VIII Divorce Any of His Wives?

“Divorced, beheaded, died, / Divorced, beheaded, survived.” That’s the mnemonic rhyme we used in school when we were studying the life of Larry King. Oops, that’s wrong. Just dug out my old notes. King Henry VIII of England.

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Thursday, March 27

 

Tuesday, March 25

The Debunker: Are There Super-Smart People with Photographic Memory?

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 Super-Smart People with “Photographic Memory”?

When people recognize me from my streak on the quiz show Jeopardy!, it’s one of the most common questions I get, right up there with “What is Alex Trebek really like?” and “Why do you still dress so badly?” People always want to know, “You have a photographic memory, right?” I don’t! What a useful thing that would be, to be able to casually glance at a page of text, or a map, or a painting, and remember it forever. I think the NSA would pay for that skill.

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Friday, March 21

 

Tuesday, March 18

The Debunker: Do We Use Only 10 Percent of Our Brains?

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: Do We Use Only 10 Percent of Our Brains?

Harvard psychologist William James used to claim that people “use only a small part of our mental and physical resources.” This is hard to argue with: of course, humans are born with an abundance of time and talent and possibility and sadly, most of us spend a lot of it on dumb stuff like Facebook or fantasy football. But in 1936, Professor James’s soundbite suddenly went viral. Journalist Lowell Thomas misquoted James to say that “the average person develops only 10 percent of his latent mental ability”—and then added the now very scientific-sounding claim to his introduction to Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book, with Thomas’s information attached, became the biggest bestseller of its time.

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Thursday, March 13

The Trivial Eye: Basketball Movies

by Jason Toon

The likes of Eight Men Out and The Blind Side notwithstanding, basketball tops every sport on the silver screen. The back-and-forth scoring, the spectacular jumps and shots, the buzzer-beaters from halfcourt, the complex interplay of class and race: it's all made for the movies. Before the real basketball drama starts unfolding next week, can you identify these eight hoops films by their posters or DVD covers?

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Tuesday, March 11

The Debunker: Did Big Dinosaurs Have a Second Brain?

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: Did Big Dinosaurs Have a Second Brain?

Yale paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh was one of the great dinosaur experts of the 19th century, naming pretty much every extinct lizard you see today in museum lobbies or children’s books: Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Triceratops, Apatosaurus. Much of his work centered on the dinosaur he called Stegosaurus, meaning “covered lizard.” In 1881, he made a cast of a Stegosaurus skull, and was astounded to find that the giant animal probably made do with a 3-ounce brain, no bigger than a lime. (Not quite the “brain the size of a walnut” from popular accounts, but close.)

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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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