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Wednesday, August 21

The Debunker: Do Opossums Sleep Hanging from Their Tails?

by Ken Jennings

Are you sweltering in the August heat? Let’s spare a thought this month for our brothers and sisters of the Southern Hemisphere, just coming out of their chilly winter months. Travel experts say that late August is actually a beautiful time to visit Australia: airfares are still low, the beaches of the north are warm, and even Sydney usually gets up into the mid- to high 60s most days. (If they used Fahrenheit there, which they don’t.) Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings apparently has a trip to Australia on his mind this month: he’ll be here all August debunking mountains of marsupial misinformation for Woot!

Do Opossums Sleep Hanging from Their Tails?

Opossums are the only marsupials native to North America, but they are no less mysterious to us than their distant Australasian cousins. We’re not sure whether to say the first syllable in their name. We don’t know what it means when they “play possum.” And we are very, very wrong about their tails.

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Wednesday, August 14

The Debunker: Are Koalas Cuddly?

by Ken Jennings

Are you sweltering in the August heat? Let’s spare a thought this month for our brothers and sisters of the Southern Hemisphere, just coming out of their chilly winter months. Travel experts say that late August is actually a beautiful time to visit Australia: airfares are still low, the beaches of the north are warm, and even Sydney usually gets up into the mid- to high 60s most days. (If they used Fahrenheit there, which they don’t.) Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings apparently has a trip to Australia on his mind this month: he’ll be here all August debunking mountains of marsupial misinformation for Woot!

Are Koalas Cuddly?

Sometimes being Woot’s official “Debunker” means being a buzzkill. Sure, koalas look like the softest, fluffiest little guys on God’s green earth. But here are the facts you should know before cuddling a koala, or considering cuddling a koala, or writing fanfic about cuddling a koala.

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Wednesday, August 07

The Debunker: Where Does the Word "Kangaroo" Come From?

by Ken Jennings

Are you sweltering in the August heat? Let’s spare a thought this month for our brothers and sisters of the Southern Hemisphere, just coming out of their chilly winter months. Travel experts say that late August is actually a beautiful time to visit Australia: airfares are still low, the beaches of the north are warm, and even Sydney usually gets up into the mid- to high 60s most days. (If they used Fahrenheit there, which they don’t.) Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings apparently has a trip to Australia on his mind this month: he’ll be here all August debunking mountains of marsupial misinformation for Woot!

Where Does the Word “Kangaroo” Come From?

Everyone likes a story that makes stuffy British colonizers look dumb, right? That probably explains the legend that’s been told since Victorian times about the origins of the word “kangaroo.” In an 1888 book, Australian journalist Donald Macdonald noted that “according to the traditions of the bush,” the kangaroo was named in English in 1770 when Captain James Cook’s ship ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Cook’s party came ashore in what is today the far north of Queensland. Seeing an unfamiliar animal hopping by, Cook asked a nearby aborigine what it was. “Kangaroo,” replied the native--meaning in his language something like “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand English, you dingus.” “Aha, the kangaroo!” nodded the clueless commander. And history was made.

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Wednesday, July 31

The Debunker: Which Fairy Tales Did the Brothers Grimm Write?

by Ken Jennings

Are you out of school for the summer, or do you have kids that are? Educators worry that lots of their students lose reading skills during the summer, when kids are enjoying their three months of "no more pencils, no more books." But good news! We've brought in Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings for a little summer reading program of our own. It turns out that a lot of the things we think we know about our favorite children's books are pure fiction.

The Debunker: Which Fairy Tales Did the Brothers Grimm Write?

Their names are synonymous with children's folk tales, from "Rapunzel" to "Snow White" to "Hansel and Gretel." It doesn't hurt that their surname suggests the surprisingly dark and macabre mood of many of these stories. They're literally grim. That's some good branding, right there.

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Wednesday, July 24

The Debunker: What Color Were Oompa-Loompas, Originally?

by Ken Jennings

Are you out of school for the summer, or do you have kids that are? Educators worry that lots of their students lose reading skills during the summer, when kids are enjoying their three months of "no more pencils, no more books." But good news! We've brought in Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings for a little summer reading program of our own. It turns out that a lot of the things we think we know about our favorite children's books are pure fiction.

The Debunker: What Color Were Oompa-Loompas, Originally?

In Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, mysterious candy tycoon Willy Wonka makes his magical confections in a factory where workers are never seen going in or out. How is this possible? Outsourcing? Amazon robots? No! Wonka's entire candy enterprise is built on the labor of a group of little foreigners called Oompa-Loompas, transplanted from their homeland to a new village in Wonka's factory, where they live and work full-time.

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Wednesday, July 17

 

Wednesday, July 10

 

Wednesday, June 26

 

Wednesday, June 19

 

Wednesday, June 12

The Debunker: Did Michael Phelps Really Eat 12,000 Calories a Day?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER It's June and summer is just around the corner, which means long lazy hours at the ol' swimming hole. But watch out for two water hazards. First of all, that water can be colder than you think, even on the warmest June days, so stay safe out there. Secondly, a lot of the stuff you think you know about swimming might not actually float in real life. Take a few laps around the pool with Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! He'll dive in and set you straight.

The Debunker: Did Michael Phelps Really Eat 12,000 Calories a Day?

In 2008, when American swimmer Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, my six-year-old son idolized him. He wore his swimsuit around the house all day every day, standing up on random pieces of furniture like they were medal stands and putting plastic medals around his own neck. But as a paunchy dad, what I envied about Phelps was his diet. Newspapers reported that Phelps, to keep his energy levels up in competition, was eating a whopping 12,000 calories every day. On a typical day, that would be a 4,000-calorie breakfast of French toast, pancakes, and fried egg sandwiches, a 4,000-calorie lunch of pasta, ham sandwiches, and energy drinks, and a 4,000-calorie dinner of pasta, pizza, and more energy drinks. Living the dream!

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Wednesday, June 05

The Debunker: Will Sharks Die If They Stop Swimming?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER It's June and summer is just around the corner, which means long lazy hours at the ol' swimming hole. But watch out for two water hazards. First of all, that water can be colder than you think, even on the warmest June days, so stay safe out there. Secondly, a lot of the stuff you think you know about swimming might not actually float in real life. Take a few laps around the pool with Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! He'll dive in and set you straight.

The Debunker: Will Sharks Die If They Stop Swimming?

I assume it was Annie Hall that brought this belief to the American public. "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know?" says Woody Allen's character Alvy Singer near the end of the film. "It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."

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Thursday, May 30

The Debunker: Can Mormons Drink Coke?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER On May 8, 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, two men tried to mix up a batch of a new pain reliever for their pharmacy. The result was so delicious they marketed it as a soft drink instead, and Coca-Cola was born. Coke turned 133 years old this month, but any brand that's been so beloved for so long is liable to accumulate its share of folklore. Take a brief, refreshing pause to correct your carbonated conjectures about Coke with Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings.

The Debunker: Can Mormons Drink Coke?

Granted, this is a myth that comes up more often for me than it does for 99.9% of you, since I am (a) Mormon and (b) a big Coke drinker. But it seems pretty persistent:

In a way, I'm flattered and impressed when my soda choice is questioned, because at least it means the other person is aware that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("the Mormons!") don't drink caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea. This is a plot point in the "Spooky Mormon Hell Drink" number of Broadway's The Book of Mormon, which has helped educate America on this point. In that musical's vision of Mormon hell, giant forbidden Starbucks cups gyrate in the underworld alongside Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Johnnie Cochrane.

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Wednesday, May 22

The Debunker: Did Coca-Cola Advertising Create the Modern Santa Claus?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER On May 8, 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, two men tried to mix up a batch of a new pain reliever for their pharmacy. The result was so delicious they marketed it as a soft drink instead, and Coca-Cola was born. Coke turned 133 years old this month, but any brand that's been so beloved for so long is liable to accumulate its share of folklore. Take a brief, refreshing pause to correct your carbonated conjectures about Coke with Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings.

The Debunker: Did Coca-Cola Advertising Create the Modern Santa Claus?

Maybe it's the red-and-white suit? Trivia types often bandy about the "little-known fact" that Santa Claus, the jolly symbol of Christmas giving, is not a figure of folklore at all, but was dreamed up in a series of midcentury holiday ads for Coca-Cola. Is Santa really just a soda pop pitchman? Even the Coke website wants you to believe this. "Coca-Cola did help to create the modern-day image of Santa," it boasts, "and in fact the way most of us see Santa Claus – friendly and plump with a white beard – did come from Coca-Cola advertising."

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Wednesday, May 15

The Debunker: Did Mikey Die from Drinking Pop Rocks in Coke?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER On May 8, 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, two men tried to mix up a batch of a new pain reliever for their pharmacy. The result was so delicious they marketed it as a soft drink instead, and Coca-Cola was born. Coke turned 133 years old this month, but any brand that's been so beloved for so long is liable to accumulate its share of folklore. Take a brief, refreshing pause to correct your carbonated conjectures about Coke with Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings.

The Debunker: Did Mikey Die from Drinking Pop Rocks in Coke?

For Generation X, it was one of the most indelible and influential TV commercials of the era. A picky eater named "Little Mikey" is encouraged by his skeptical older brothers to try Quaker Oats' healthy-looking cereal Life. To everyone's surprise, "He likes it!"

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Wednesday, April 24

The Debunker: What Did Ralph Waldo Emerson Recommend You Invent?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada! Dreamed up in 1966 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a chance to celebrate poetry of all kinds and get the poetry-skeptical to read or write some of their own. But Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here this month to tell you that not everything you think you know about American poetry is historically accurate. Here's the poem he sent us for the occasion: "This is just to say / I have corrected the false poetry facts / that were in your brain / and which / you have probably / believed since high school / Forgive me / they were irresistible / so wrong / and so easy to Google."

The Debunker: What Did Ralph Waldo Emerson Recommend You Invent?

The poet, essayist, and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was a true American original. But his Transcendentalist writings have turned out to be less influential on the American mind than his famous adage "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." Taking the quote incredibly literally, around forty thousand inventors have applied for mousetrap patents to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, waiting for the inevitable rush of investors to appear at their door. The patent office still grants about forty patents a year for mousetrap designs, for a grand total of over 4,400 patents, more than any other device.

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Wednesday, April 17

The Debunker: Was Emily Dickinson a Mysterious Recluse?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada! Dreamed up in 1966 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a chance to celebrate poetry of all kinds and get the poetry-skeptical to read or write some of their own. But Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here this month to tell you that not everything you think you know about American poetry is historically accurate. Here's the poem he sent us for the occasion: "This is just to say / I have corrected the false poetry facts / that were in your brain / and which / you have probably / believed since high school / Forgive me / they were irresistible / so wrong / and so easy to Google."

The Debunker: Was Emily Dickinson a Mysterious Recluse?

Everyone knows the legend of the mysterious "Belle of Amherst," Emily Dickinson, writing her striking and inventive poetry alone in her upstairs bedroom, refusing to leave her seclusion for any reason. Often this version of Dickinson paints her as a lovelorn spinster, and can border on a patronizing condescension we rarely see in the treatment of male writers.

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Wednesday, April 10

The Debunker: Is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" about Individualism?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada! Dreamed up in 1966 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a chance to celebrate poetry of all kinds and get the poetry-skeptical to read or write some of their own. But Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here this month to tell you that not everything you think you know about American poetry is historically accurate. Here's the poem he sent us for the occasion: "This is just to say / I have corrected the false poetry facts / that were in your brain / and which / you have probably / believed since high school / Forgive me / they were irresistible / so wrong / and so easy to Google."

The Debunker: Is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" about Individualism?

Okay, first of all, it's "The Road Not Taken," not "The Road Less Traveled." Robert Frost's yearbook and dorm poster and graduation speech staple is, according to Google search metrics, the most famous poem of the 20th century by a wide margin. But, as the New York Times Book Review critic David Orr convincingly argued in a 2015 book, the poem probably doesn't mean what you think it means.

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Wednesday, April 03

The Debunker: Are You Supposed to Style His Name as "e. e. cummings"?

by Ken Jennings

April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada! Dreamed up in 1966 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a chance to celebrate poetry of all kinds and get the poetry-skeptical to read or write some of their own. But Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here this month to tell you that not everything you think you know about American poetry is historically accurate. Here's the poem he sent us for the occasion: "This is just to say / I have corrected the false poetry facts / that were in your brain / and which / you have probably / believed since high school / Forgive me / they were irresistible / so wrong / and so easy to Google."

The Debunker: Are You Supposed to Style His Name as "e. e. cummings"?

Edward Estlin Cummings was one of the great modernist poets, famously fooling around with syntax, spelling, and typography in much-anthologized poems like "in Just-" and "anyhow lived in a pretty how town." As you can tell from the titles of those verses alone, Cummings had a predilection for lower-case letters—though not exclusively. "in Just-," his poem about spring that often makes its way into children's textbooks so kids can freak out about the crazy spacing, has two capital letters, including the one in the title. His work uses capital letters all the time, in fact—just not always in places your English teacher would approve of. For example, he almost always wrote the pronoun "I" as "i."

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Wednesday, March 27

The Debunker: Are You Within Three Feet of a Spider Right Now?

by Ken Jennings

Mathletes probably know that March 14 is celebrated as "Pi Day," because 3/14 is a natural time to salute the decimal approximation of pi, 3.14. But if you're a science nerd who's more into biology than physics, you'll be happy to know that March 14 is also National Save a Spider Day in the United States. March is the perfect month to thank our arachnid friends for all they do for us—especially because they're so often misunderstood. Here, let's allow Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to smooth out the tangled web of spider myths that might have you deceived.

The Debunker: Are You Within Three Feet of a Spider Right Now?

I debunk a lot of weird stuff on this website, but this oft-repeated factoid is a unique kind of a thing even for me: a trivia fact that presumes to know an awful lot about my current situation. Really? I'm three feet from a spider at all times? Even if I'm swimming in a hotel pool? Skydiving from a plane? Trudging across the Antarctica tundra? How does nature guarantee my spider proximity in situations like those?

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Wednesday, March 20

The Debunker: Who Told Spider-Man that "with Great Power Comes Great Responsibility"?

by Ken Jennings

Mathletes probably know that March 14 is celebrated as "Pi Day," because 3/14 is a natural time to salute the decimal approximation of pi, 3.14. But if you're a science nerd who's more into biology than physics, you'll be happy to know that March 14 is also National Save a Spider Day in the United States. March is the perfect month to thank our arachnid friends for all they do for us—especially because they're so often misunderstood. Here, let's allow Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to smooth out the tangled web of spider myths that might have you deceived.

The Debunker: Who Told Spider-Man that "with Great Power Comes Great Responsibility"?

Peter Parker's Uncle Ben is destined to accomplish two important things in the Spider-Man mythos: first, to tell his nephew Peter that "with great power comes great responsibility," and second, to die at the hands of an anonymous gunman. That's about it. Those two acts—and Peter's guilt at not having prevented Uncle Ben's death—are what seal the deal on Spider-Man's future. Peter Parker will now spend his spare time as a selfless, wall-crawling friendly neighborhood super-hero, one who looks out for the little guy and never gives up.

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