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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Wednesday, March 28

The Debunker: Did 300 Spartans Hold Off a Million Persians at Thermopylae?

by Ken Jennings

March has come in like a lion, and I hope that you're just as excited as I am to celebrate March 25, the Greek holiday that marks their 1821 war for independence from the Turks. Opa! "Greece" is the word! In honor of Greek independence, Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here all month to correct a lot of Greek mythology—things we thought we knew about the ancient land that gave us democracy, logic, and nude wrestling. It turns out a lot of this Socratic wisdom is all Greek to us.

The Debunker: Did 300 Spartans Hold Off a Million Persians at Thermopylae?

If your knowledge of Greek history come solely from the bombastic, slow-motion carnage of Zack Snyder's 300 movies, you probably deserve what you get. In a shocking twist, these 'roided-up fantasy bear little resemblance to actual history.

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Tuesday, March 27

 

Wednesday, March 21

The Debunker: Was Epicurus an Epicurean Kind of Guy?

by Ken Jennings

March has come in like a lion, and I hope that you're just as excited as I am to celebrate March 25, the Greek holiday that marks their 1821 war for independence from the Turks. Opa! "Greece" is the word! In honor of Greek independence, Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here all month to correct a lot of Greek mythology—things we thought we knew about the ancient land that gave us democracy, logic, and nude wrestling. It turns out a lot of this Socratic wisdom is all Greek to us.

The Debunker: Was Epicurus an Epicurean Kind of Guy?

Epicurus founded his own school of philosophy in Athens around 300 BC: the Garden, named for its pleasant outdoor setting. It drew hundreds of adherents—including women and slaves—who studied with Epicurus during the last thirty years of his life. He's an important figure in the history of science for insisting that belief be backed up by logical deduction, but today he's mostly remembered for lending his name to the word "epicurean." An epicurean, the dictionary tells us, is a sybarite, someone devoted to sensual pleasures.

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Wednesday, March 14

The Debunker: Did the Greeks Love Gleaming White Statues and Temples or What?

by Ken Jennings

March has come in like a lion, and I hope that you're just as excited as I am to celebrate March 25, the Greek holiday that marks their 1821 war for independence from the Turks. Opa! "Greece" is the word! In honor of Greek independence, Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here all month to correct a lot of Greek mythology-things we thought we knew about the ancient land that gave us democracy, logic, and nude wrestling. It turns out a lot of this Socratic wisdom is all Greek to us.

Did the Greeks Love Gleaming White Statues and Temples or What?

The grandeur that was Greece, at least in epic Hollywood movies, is really heavy on white marble. Big marble statuary, big marble pillared temples. If you've been to modern Greece, you know that the colossal ruined temples-the Parthenon in Athens, the temple of Poseidon at Sounion-are indeed big chunks of white marble. So what's the big deal?

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Wednesday, March 07

The Debunker: Did a Messenger Run 25 Miles After the Battle of Marathon?

by Ken Jennings

March has come in like a lion, and we hope that you're just as excited as we am to celebrate March 25, the Greek holiday that marks their 1821 war for independence from the Turks. Opa! "Greece" is the word! In honor of Greek independence, Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here all month to correct a lot of Greek mythology—things we thought we knew about the ancient land that gave us democracy, logic, and nude wrestling. It turns out a lot of this Socratic wisdom is all Greek to us.

The Debunker: Did a Messenger Run 25 Miles After the Battle of Marathon?

Today, all a marathon will get you is orange slices, chafed nipples, and a smug bumper sticker for your car, but in 490 BC, Marathon saved western civilization. At that battle, the outnumbered Athenians successfully fought back a larger Persian army, ending Darius the Great's dreams of conquering Greece for the next decade.

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Tuesday, March 06