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.

read more…

 

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?

read more…

 

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.)

read more…

 

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?

read more…

 

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.

read more…

 

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?

 

read more…

 

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?

read more…

 

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.

read more…