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Wednesday, June 20

The Debunker: Are Abbott and Costello in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

by Kenn Jennings

We live in an increasingly unfunny world, which might be why comedy is booming in our culture like never before. Today, every ad tries to be funny, every politician tries to be funny. Many of us get our news from comedy shows , if we haven't already been filled in by the day's viral tweets and Facebook memes. Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has a new book out about our comedy-first culture, called Planet Funny, which is on sale now, so we've asked him to spend June debunking some popular misconceptions about humor and comedy. He'll be here all month! Tip your waitress.

The Debunker: Are Abbott and Costello in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

It's been a trivia chestnut for decades, as anyone who's read enough mimeographed office newsletters or listened to enough drive-time radio DJs probably knows. "Who are the only two people in the Baseball Hall of Fame who had nothing to do with baseball?" The question sometimes clarifies: these two are not players, managers, team owners, or umpires. The answer has a pleasingly "aha!" ring to it: it's supposedly Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, the comedy duo most famous for their baseball routine, "Who's on First?"

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Wednesday, June 13

The Debunker: Is Laughter For When We Hear Something Funny?

by Ken Jennings

We live in an increasingly unfunny world, which might be why comedy is booming in our culture like never before. Today, every ad tries to be funny, every politician tries to be funny. Many of us get our news from comedy shows , if we haven't already been filled in by the day's viral tweets and Facebook memes. Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has a new book out about our comedy-first culture, called Planet Funny, which is on sale now, so we've asked him to spend June debunking some popular misconceptions about humor and comedy. He'll be here all month! Tip your waitress.

The Debunker: Is Laughter For When We Hear Something Funny?

"Present mirth hath present laughter; what's to come is still unsure," wrote William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. That's a guy who wrote over a dozen comedies that are stone-cold classics, even if they haven't really been that funny to audiences for at least two hundred years. Surely he knows what he's talking about! Mirth, or amusement, causes laughter, everybody knows that. More simply put, we laugh at jokes.

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Wednesday, June 06

The Debunker: When Was Steve Martin an SNL Cast Member?

by Ken Jennings

We live in an increasingly unfunny world, which might be why comedy is booming in our culture like never before. Today, every ad tries to be funny, every politician tries to be funny. Many of us get our news from comedy show, if we haven't already been filled in by the day's viral tweets and Facebook memes. Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has a new book out about our comedy-first culture, called Planet Funny, which is on sale now, so we've asked him to spend June debunking some popular misconceptions about humor and comedy. He'll be here all month! Tip your waitress.

The Debunker: When Was Steve Martin an SNL Cast Member?

This might only qualify as a misconception if you're under 35. Not only can you not be president, you relative youngsters, you probably assume that Steve Martin used to be on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s! And why not? Everyone's seen the clips of him dancing with Gilda Radner, being bemused by the Coneheads, originating his "wild and crazy guy!" catchphrase as one of the swinging Festrunk brothers, or singing his novelty hit "King Tut" in the a Egyptian headdress. (Does it count as cultural appropriation if the culture in question effectively ended over two thousand years ago?)

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Wednesday, May 30

The Debunker: Did People Think the World Was Flat Until Columbus Proved Them Wrong?

by Ken Jennings

February means Fashion Week in New York, where style trends are born and the newest looks are big business. But what about the rest of us? What about you, a randomly chosen non-supermodel reading a short trivia piece on the Internet? What do you know about fashion? Don't get me wrong, you look great today, but there are a lot of sartorial misconceptions that make the rounds in our culture. We've asked Ken Jennings, who is well-dressed at least by the low standards of Jeopardy! contestants, to go through our closets and throw out all the wrong stuff we thought we knew about our clothes.

Did People Think the World Was Flat Until Columbus Proved Them Wrong?

1492 was a pretty big deal in the New World. That's the year when strange, pale sailors first starting showing up and making the natives get baptized and dig for non-existent gold. As many people imagine it today, 1492 was a big deal in the Old World too. It was the year that Europe finally woke up from the Dark Ages and realized the world was round. All the superstitious scholars and frightened sailors thought the world was flat and Columbus was going to sail right off the edge—until he bravely proved them wrong. Or so the story goes.

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Wednesday, May 23

The Debunker: Did Rats Cause the Black Death?

by Ken Jennings

On May 11, 1963, a Los Angeles couple named Ron and Phyllis Patterson held a weekend-long radio station fundraiser they called a "Renaissance Pleasure Faire," giving birth to a whole new entertainment industry based on corsets, meat pies, and stilted faux-Shakespearean English. This month, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Ye Olde Renaissance Festival, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to drop by and give us the scoop on what really went on during the Middle Ages. He's going to get medieval on your ass…umptions.

The Debunker: Did Rats Cause the Black Death?

I'm not one of those weird guys who always had a rat or ferret running up and down in his arm in college. I'm not crazy about rodents. It would give me great pleasure to blame the "Black Death" of the Middle Ages, which may have killed over one hundred million people, on the icky little vermin. That's the way the epidemic is usually taught in history classes, after all. But the science of bubonic plague is actually not a settled matter at all—and the latest research is actually on the side of exone-rat-ion.

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Wednesday, May 16

The Debunker: Did Viking Helmets Have Horns?

by Ken Jennings

On May 11, 1963, a Los Angeles couple named Ron and Phyllis Patterson held a weekend-long radio station fundraiser they called a "Renaissance Pleasure Faire," giving birth to a whole new entertainment industry based on corsets, meat pies, and stilted faux-Shakespearean English. This month, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Ye Olde Renaissance Festival, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to drop by and give us the scoop on what really went on during the Middle Ages. He's going to get medieval on your ass…umptions.

The Debunker: Did Viking Helmets Have Horns?

The horniness of Vikings is well beyond the purview of this column, but I am willing to take on the horniness of their helmets. After all, the big spiky horns are the one things that everyone knows about the fashion stylings of medieval Scandinavian raiders. They show up everywhere from Bugs Bunny cartoons to Capital One credit card ads. But it's all a lie. The only Viking helmets that ever had horns on them were Minnesota Vikings helmets. And those were historically inaccurate too.

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Friday, May 11

 

Wednesday, May 09

The Debunker: Were Spices So Valuable Because They Hid the Taste of Rotten Meat?

by Ken Jennings

On May 11, 1963, a Los Angeles couple named Ron and Phyllis Patterson held a weekend-long radio station fundraiser they called a "Renaissance Pleasure Faire," giving birth to a whole new entertainment industry based on corsets, meat pies, and stilted faux-Shakespearean English. This month, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Ye Olde Renaissance Festival, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to drop by and give us the scoop on what really went on during the Middle Ages. He's going to get medieval on your ass…umptions.

The Debunker: Were Spices So Valuable Because They Hid the Taste of Rotten Meat?

The spice trade between Asia and Europe, from classical times up through the Age of Discovery, has shaped the history of both continents. Cinnamon, ginger, and pepper from India and China lit up taste buds in the Middle East and eventually Western Europe. Fortunes were made or lost on the stuff, which could be worth well more than its weight in gold. Dutch traders could mark up a shipload of nutmeg as high as 60,000 percent and still sell out.

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Wednesday, May 02

The Debunker: Was Medieval Armor Incredibly Heavy?

by Ken Jennings

On May 11, 1963, a Los Angeles couple named Ron and Phyllis Patterson held a weekend-long radio station fundraiser they called a "Renaissance Pleasure Faire," giving birth to a whole new entertainment industry based on corsets, meat pies, and stilted faux-Shakespearean English. This month, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Ye Olde Renaissance Festival, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to drop by and give us the scoop on what really went on during the Middle Ages. He's going to get medieval on your ass…umptions.

The Debunker: Was Medieval Armor Incredibly Heavy?

Medieval warfare was pretty hard on suits of armor, but Hollywood has been even worse. Agile swashbuckling heroes of the Errol Flynn variety generally have no problem disarming and capering around on-screen castle guards, who are next to useless in their cumbersome, unwieldy armor. Cartoon characters like Goofy and Bugs Bunny joust against armored opponents that are effectively giant clanking furnaces. And Laurence Olivier's Henry V cemented in our minds the "fact" that medieval knights used cranes to hoist themselves into the saddle—a silly notion for which there's no historical evidence, and which Olivier's historical advisors protested mightily.

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Tuesday, May 01

 

Monday, April 30

MORT’S COUPON QUEST IS BACK!

by Mortimer Q. Monque

Here's the TL;DR version:

May 2 at 8:30am CST | Home Buyer Picks | $5 and $10 coupons | Hundreds of redemptions!

Mort's hiding 6 sets of coupon codes, some worth $5 and some worth $10. Each set will have a certain number of redemptions available. The first customers to find them and use them, get them!

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Wednesday, April 25

The Debunker: Did the Greeks Love the "Golden Ratio"?

by Ken Jennings

April has been Mathematics Awareness Month since 1999, making this the nineteenth time it's been observed. Wait, that's not right. The twentieth time. To celebrate our mathematical awareness, or lack thereof, Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! will be with us all month debunking all the popular misinformation about numbers that you thought once you could count on.

The Debunker: Did the Greeks Love the "Golden Ratio"?

The "golden ratio" is an irrational number approximately equal to 1.62, and it's a relationship easy to find in many natural sequences and geometries. Take two line segments, a longer one and a shorter one. The two lengths are in the "golden ratio" if the ratio of the shorter to the longer is the same as the ratio of the longer to the sum of both segments together. Readers of pop mathematics are probably familiar with claims that artists and architects have always loved the golden ratio, and that it can be found by measuring everything from the Pyramids to the Parthenon in Athens to the face of the Mona Lisa. In Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the golden mean (which he calls "phi," a Greek letter sometimes used to represent the ratio) provides pivotal clues to the mystery, and is said to underlie a lot of great classical and Renaissance art.

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Wednesday, April 18

The Debunker: Will Counting Sheep Help Me Fall Asleep?

by Ken Jennings

April has been Mathematics Awareness Month since 1999, making this the nineteenth time it's been observed. Wait, that's not right. The twentieth time. To celebrate our mathematical awareness, or lack thereof, Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! will be with us all month debunking all the popular misinformation about numbers that you thought once you could count on.

The Debunker: Will Counting Sheep Help Me Fall Asleep?

Great, this is the first "Debunker" column ever where the title question rhymes! But just like every other "Debunker," the title question has the same answer: No. No, it probably won't.

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Wednesday, April 11

The Debunker: Is Infinity a Number?

by Ken Jennings

April has been Mathematics Awareness Month since 1999, making this the nineteenth time it's been observed. Wait, that's not right. The twentieth time. To celebrate our mathematical awareness, or lack thereof, Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! will be with us all month debunking all the popular misinformation about numbers that you thought once you could count on.

The Debunker: Is Infinity a Number?

Many an elementary school argument can be won—or escalated into violence—by introducing the mathematical concept of infinity. Comebacks like "I dare you times infinity" or "You want to kiss [classmate X] infinity times" are hard to trump. "I dare you times a million" can always be defused with a little "I dare you times a million and one." But how can you beat infinity? What number comes after it? Obviously nothing—unless you're Buzz Lightyear and believe in going beyond infinity.

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Wednesday, April 04

The Debunker: How Much Less is .9999… than One?

by Ken Jennings

April has been Mathematics Awareness Month since 1999, making this the nineteenth time it's been observed. Wait, that's not right. The twentieth time. To celebrate our mathematical awareness, or lack thereof, Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! will be with us all month debunking all the popular misinformation about numbers that you thought once you could count on.

The Debunker: How Much Less is .9999… than One?

Like me, you may remember the first time you were asked to perform long division on two numbers that produced a repeating quotient. Do you recall the dreary, slowly dawning realization that these numbers were going to keep repeating in that pattern indefinitely? Even a respectable, friendly, familiar fraction like one-third turned out to be unending in its decimal expansion: 0.333333333333… We were taught to just put a horizontal line over the digit(s) that repeated and call it a day, but it sure wasn’t very satisfying.

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