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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Tuesday, October 20

The Debunker: Was the Monster in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" Built from Corpses?

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 the Monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Built from Corpses?

Yes, yes, we all know by now that "Frankenstein" is actually not the name of the monster in Mary Shelley's landmark 1818 horror novel (or any of the dozens of subsequent adaptations). Victor Frankenstein is the ethically challenged scientists who creates the monster; the creation itself is usually just called something generic like "creature" or "fiend." The confusion pre-dates the Boris Karloff movie by over a century, but it's still a little odd. I guess the monster does consider himself to be Frankenstein's son, in a sense, so you could argue that he would inherit his surname, but Shelley never uses that idea in the book. The title character of the book is meant to be the scientist, full stop.

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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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