Tuesday, March 07

The Debunker: Do Yokels Tip Cows?

by Ken Jennings

March brings the first soft breezes and crocus buds of spring, as the earth awakens after its winter-long sleep. Perhaps this new season of life and fertility explains why the Agricultural Council of America has named March 21, often the first day of spring, as "National Agriculture Day." But how much do you really know about farming? In honor of the equinox, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings is here to plant some seeds of knowledge among your weeds of agricultural ignorance.

The Debunker: Do Yokels Tip Cows?

I first learned about this favorite pastime of rural America when I watched the high school comedy Heathers. Teens in flyover country, Hollywood assured me, were often so bored on weekends that they'd get drunk and wander through the pastures outside of town at night, tipping over unsuspecting cows. This made complete sense to my teenaged brain in 1988. It actually sounded like a lot of fun.

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Tuesday, February 28

The Debunker: Are Potato Chip Bags Filled with Air?

by Ken Jennings

Great news, everyone—the Idaho Potato Commission has named February as its official Potato Lovers' Month! In the commission's own words, this is a time to "explore Idaho® Potato versatility from a different and exciting angle." Some of us in the other forty-nine states sadly don't get to take all of Potato Lovers' Month off work, like they probably do in Idaho, but we can celebrate in other ways. For example, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who lives in an Idaho-adjacent state, to correct any morsels of our potato knowledge that might be a little half-baked.

The Debunker: Are Potato Chip Bags Filled with Air?

It's called "slack fill" in the industry: the strategy of surrounding snack products with empty space. The idea isn't to mislead consumers into thinking their bag contains many more potato chips than it actually does—though I'm sure that doesn't hurt. (Chips are labeled and sold by weight, not volume, so there's no truth-in-advertising lawsuit to be waged here.) The extra cushioning is mostly there to prevent breakage during manufacture and transit.

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Tuesday, February 21

The Debunker: Is Vodka Made from Potatoes?

by Ken Jennings

Great news, everyone—the Idaho Potato Commission has named February as its official Potato Lovers' Month! In the commission's own words, this is a time to "explore Idaho® Potato versatility from a different and exciting angle." Some of us in the other forty-nine states sadly don't get to take all of Potato Lovers' Month off work, like they probably do in Idaho, but we can celebrate in other ways. For example, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who lives in an Idaho-adjacent state, to correct any morsels of our potato knowledge that might be a little half-baked.

The Debunker: Is Vodka Made from Potatoes?

Wine comes from grapes, beer is brewed from barley. And vodka comes from potatoes, right? This was, at least, the received wisdom I grew up with. Perhaps in the Cold War era, it was encouraging to imagine that, while we in the West were sipping on our fancy cognacs and whatnot, the denizens of the Evil Empire had no choice but to distill their grim, brain-fogging tipple from the lowly potato.

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Tuesday, February 14

The Debunker: Are French Fries French?

by Ken Jennings

Great news, everyone—the Idaho Potato Commission has named February as its official Potato Lovers' Month! In the commission's own words, this is a time to "explore Idaho® Potato versatility from a different and exciting angle." Some of us in the other forty-nine states sadly don't get to take all of Potato Lovers' Month off work, like they probably do in Idaho, but we can celebrate in other ways. For example, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who lives in an Idaho-adjacent state, to correct any morsels of our potato knowledge that might be a little half-baked.

The Debunker: Are French Fries French?

Your Debunker likes to supply a clear-cut answer to all questions, especially on topics of such fundamental importance to the nation as French fries. But this is one case where facts pre-date the written history, and so the origins of the humble fry are lost in the greasy mists of time. On the basis of the available evidence, I think it's unlikely that the idea of deep-frying little raw potato wedges originated in France. Here's why...

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Tuesday, February 07

The Debunker: Are Most Nutrients in a Potato Really Found in the Skin?

by Ken Jennings

Great news, everyone—the Idaho Potato Commission has named February as its official Potato Lovers' Month! In the commission's own words, this is a time to "explore Idaho® Potato versatility from a different and exciting angle." Some of us in the other forty-nine states sadly don't get to take all of Potato Lovers' Month off work, like they probably do in Idaho, but we can celebrate in other ways. For example, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who lives in an Idaho-adjacent state, to correct any morsels of our potato knowledge that might be a little half-baked.

The Debunker: Are Most Nutrients in a Potato Really Found in the Skin?

Many of us still feel bad when we peel a fruit or a vegetable, remembering childhood warnings that "that's where the vitamins are!" It makes sense, in a roundabout way. Healthy things are usually unpleasant. The skin is the most unpleasant part of most produce. Therefore, that must also be the healthiest part. Q.E.D.

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Tuesday, February 23

The Debunker: Is Curious George a Monkey?

by Ken Jennings


According to the Chinese zodiac, it's been the "Year of the Goat" since last February, and we're getting pretty tired of the nonstop goat-related festivities. Luckily, the lunar new year this month begins the "Year of the Monkey," so the future looks bright. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings tells us that a lot of stuff we thought we knew about our mischievous treetop friends is just bananas. All month, he'll be here to put a stop to all the monkey business.

The Debunker: Is Curious George a Monkey?

"What a nice little monkey!" thinks the Man with the Yellow Hat, when he first meets his famous friend in the 1941 children's classic Curious George. Then he picks George up, stuffs him in a bag, and takes him out of Africa on a boat. "George was sad, but he was still a little curious," authors Margret and Hans Rey tell us, in what today seems to be some kind of super-problematic take on colonialism or animal abuse or slavery or something.

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Tuesday, February 16

The Debunker: Did the Monkees Play Their Own Instruments?

by Ken Jennings


According to the Chinese zodiac, it's been the "Year of the Goat" since last February, and we're getting pretty tired of the nonstop goat-related festivities. Luckily, the lunar new year this month begins the "Year of the Monkey," so the future looks bright. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings tells us that a lot of stuff we thought we knew about our mischievous treetop friends is just bananas. All month, he'll be here to put a stop to all the monkey business.

The Debunker: Did the Monkees Play Their Own Instruments?

"Madness!! Auditions," read the September 9, 1965 ad in Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. "Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running Parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank's types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview." (Ben Frank's was a hip coffee shop well known to L.A. scenesters of the time.)

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Tuesday, February 09

The Debunker: Did Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan Swing from Vines?

by Ken Jennings


According to the Chinese zodiac, it's been the "Year of the Goat" since last February, and we're getting pretty tired of the nonstop goat-related festivities. Luckily, the lunar new year this month begins the "Year of the Monkey," so the future looks bright. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings tells us that a lot of stuff we thought we knew about our mischievous treetop friends is just bananas. All month, he'll be here to put a stop to all the monkey business.

The Debunker: Did Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan Swing from Vines?

"Why didn't Tarzan visit Jane?" asks the old joke. "Because her vine was busy." You can tell this is an old joke because it requires knowledge of two things that haven't existed in decades: busy signals, and Tarzan movies. But if we as a culture retain any pre-Disney knowledge of the greatest pulp character in literary history, it's probably this: sometimes he does that yell and swings on those vines. Just like the apes that raised him, right?

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Tuesday, February 02

The Debunker: Did Humans Evolve from Monkeys?

by Ken Jennings

According to the Chinese zodiac, it's been the "Year of the Goat" since last February, and we're getting pretty tired of the nonstop goat-related festivities. Luckily, the lunar new year this month begins the "Year of the Monkey," so the future looks bright. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings tells us that a lot of stuff we thought we knew about our mischievous treetop friends is just bananas. All month, he'll be here to put a stop to all the monkey business.

The Debunker: Did Humans Evolve from Monkeys?

In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin was careful never to apply his new theory of "natural selection" to the origin of man, but readers were quick to connect the dots. Before the book was even published, minister John Leifchild was complaining in the Athenaeum about the new "belief that man descends from the monkeys." This caricature of evolutionary theory was so fixed in the public mind that the 1925 trial of John Scopes, for teaching evolution in small-town Tennessee, is still known as the "Scopes Monkey Trial." Prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan got big laughs during the trial for reading excerpts from The Descent of Man and then complaining to the crowd that, according to Darwin, humans were descended "not even from American monkeys, but from Old World monkeys!"

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Tuesday, February 24

The Debunker: Do People Breathe in Oxygen and Breathe Out Carbon Dioxide?

by Ken Jennings

In addition to his day job as Woot's full-time "Debunker," Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings moonlights as an author of books, and this month he has a new one in stores. It's the fifth in his Junior Genius series, this time chock-full of amazing facts about The Human Body. To mark the occasion, he'll spend all of February debunking anatomical anachronisms and medical misinformation for us. Finally: the inside scoop about our own insides.

The Debunker: Do People Breathe in Oxygen and Breathe Out Carbon Dioxide?

Well, okay. Yes, you do breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, which is why you're still alive. Fine. But you also breathe in plenty of carbon dioxide and breathe out plenty of oxygen. It's a lot more complicated than the diagram you remember from third grade where the people are pumping out carbon dioxide and the trees are pumping out oxygen.

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