Wednesday, November 29

The Debunker: Was the U.S. Interstate System Designed to Provide Emergency Landing Strips for Aircraft?

by Ken Jennings

November is here, and you know what that means—National Aviation History Month! Yes, like all good citizens, you undoubtedly wait all year for this fun-filled celebration of great achievements in the history of flight. But as you get together with loved ones during this festive flight-themed season, we want to make sure you don't perpetuate any myths and misconceptions. Ken Jennings, high-flying Jeopardy! whiz, is here all month to correct a lot of common aviation knowledge that's just plane wrong.

The Debunker: Was the U.S. Interstate System Designed to Provide Emergency Landing Strips for Aircraft?

We're so blessed to live in a time when humankind has invented the Internet, an amazing digital utility used mostly to store pornography and pages of "Completely Random and Useless Facts You Should Know." These numbered trivia lists nearly always include this standby: "The U.S. interstate highway system requires that one mile in every five be straight. These straight sections function as airstrips in times of war and other emergencies." What a fun thing to consider, as we travel the highways and byways of this great land: the interstate system's Eisenhower-era engineers had Cold War paranoia on their minds as they surveyed it!

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Wednesday, November 22

The Debunker: Do Airplanes Dump Frozen Waste in Flight?

by Ken Jennings

November is here, and you know what that means—National Aviation History Month! Yes, like all good citizens, you undoubtedly wait all year for this fun-filled celebration of great achievements in the history of flight. But as you get together with loved ones during this festive flight-themed season, we want to make sure you don't perpetuate any myths and misconceptions. Ken Jennings, high-flying Jeopardy! whiz, is here all month to correct a lot of common aviation knowledge that's just plane wrong.

The Debunker: Do Airplanes Dump Frozen Waste in Flight?

When Charles Lindbergh made his historic trans-Atlantic flight and met all the crowned heads of Europe, Britain's King George V had a question. "There is one thing I long to know," he said. "How did you pee?" Lindbergh, put at ease by the question, let His Majesty in on the secret: he had a funnel attached to an aluminum container, which he dropped somewhere over the French countryside. "I was not going to be caught with the thing on me at Le Bourget (Airport)!" he said.

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Wednesday, November 15

The Debunker: Is the Bermuda Triangle a Mysterious Nexus for Air and Sea Disappearances?

by Ken Jennings

November is here, and you know what that means—National Aviation History Month! Yes, like all good citizens, you undoubtedly wait all year for this fun-filled celebration of great achievements in the history of flight. But as you get together with loved ones during this festive flight-themed season, we want to make sure you don't perpetuate any myths and misconceptions. Ken Jennings, high-flying Jeopardy! whiz, is here all month to correct a lot of common aviation knowledge that's just plane wrong.

The Debunker: Is the Bermuda Triangle a Mysterious Nexus for Air and Sea Disappearances?

Secrets of the pyramids! Chariots of the gods! Bigfoot! Crystals! Roswell! The 1970s were a boom time for all kinds of purportedly Unexplained Mysteries, eagerly embraced by people who would go on to buy all those Time-Life Books series about the paranormal. But no phenomenon was more faddish than the Bermuda Triangle, a strange region of the North Atlantic where, everyone knew, planes and ships were always going missing in eerie and inexplicable ways. In Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released in 1977, aliens end up taking the blame for the Bermuda Triangle disappearances. Of course! Aliens! It's always aliens.

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Wednesday, November 08

The Debunker: Did the Wright Brothers Achieve the First Sustained, Powered Airplane Flight?

by Ken Jennings

November is here, and you know what that means—National Aviation History Month! Yes, like all good citizens, you undoubtedly wait all year for this fun-filled celebration of great achievements in the history of flight. But as you get together with loved ones during this festive flight-themed season, we want to make sure you don't perpetuate any myths and misconceptions. Ken Jennings, high-flying Jeopardy! whiz, is here all month to correct a lot of common aviation knowledge that's just plane wrong.

The Debunker: Did the Wright Brothers Achieve the First Sustained, Powered Airplane Flight?

On May 6, 1896, Samuel Pierpont Langley, the head of the Smithsonian Institution, brought his steam-powered Aerodrome Number 5 vehicle down to the Potomac River, where it flew over half a mile. The Aerodrome was a tandem-wing contraption that looked like a giant dragonfly, and its ninety-second test flight smashed all previous records for lift and stability. But wait—the Wright Brothers didn't test their Flyer at Kitty Hawk until 1903. Did Langley beat Wilbur and Orville to the punch by seven full years?

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Wednesday, November 01

The Debunker: Did Howard Hughes Build a Giant Plane Out of Spruce Wood?

by Ken Jennings

November is here, and you know what that means—National Aviation History Month! Yes, like all good citizens, you undoubtedly wait all year for this fun-filled celebration of great achievements in the history of flight. But as you get together with loved ones during this festive flight-themed season, we want to make sure you don't perpetuate any myths and misconceptions. Ken Jennings, high-flying Jeopardy! whiz, is here all month to correct a lot of common aviation knowledge that's just plane wrong.

The Debunker: Did Howard Hughes Build a Giant Plane Out of Spruce Wood?

McMinnville, Oregon, an hour southwest of Portland, is today the unlikely home of the H-4 Hercules, a mammoth flying cargo ship built by the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1942. After getting the government contract to build the prototype, Howard Hughes spent $23 million on the H-4—almost $300 million in today's dollars. The war ended before the project could be completed, and Hughes was dragged in front of the Senate in 1947 to defend the boondoggle. "The Hercules was a monumental undertaking," he testified. "It is the largest aircraft ever built. It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field. That's more than a city block. I put the sweat of my life into this thing."

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Tuesday, November 22

The Debunker: Did All of Custer's Men Die at Little Bighorn?

by Ken Jennings

When most Americans think about American Indians in November, it's probably as part of Thanksgiving pageantry: the Wampanoags who gave the hapless Pilgrims food during their first winter at Plymouth and taught them how to grow corn the following spring, the ninety Indians who attended the "first Thanksgiving" feast in 1621. You may not know that, ever since 1990, November has officially been "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States, a time to recognize "the rich ancestry and traditions" of the nation's first inhabitants. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has some reservations about the accuracy of our Native American knowledge. It's never too late to set the record straight!

The Debunker: Did All of Custer's Men Die at Little Bighorn?

It's hard to say anything about the 1876 U.S. cavalry defeat at Little Bighorn without running afoul of history. General Custer (bzzz!) with his trademark flowing blond hair (bzzz!) led his troops into battle with Sitting Bull's Sioux, only to have his entire 7th Cavalry wiped out (bzzz!) by a Sioux ambush (bzzz!). That's four strikes already.

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Tuesday, November 15

The Debunker: Where Did The Inaccurate Stereotype Of Native American Drunkenness Come From?

by Ken Jennings

When most Americans think about American Indians in November, it's probably as part of Thanksgiving pageantry: the Wampanoags who gave the hapless Pilgrims food during their first winter at Plymouth and taught them how to grow corn the following spring, the ninety Indians who attended the "first Thanksgiving" feast in 1621. You may not know that, ever since 1990, November has officially been "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States, a time to recognize "the rich ancestry and traditions" of the nation's first inhabitants. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has some reservations about the accuracy of our Native American knowledge. It's never too late to set the record straight!

The Debunker: Where Did The Inaccurate Stereotype Of Native American Drinking Even Come From?

The word "firewater," probably a translation from the Ojibwa word for whisky, was popularized by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans. Like many racist stereotypes of Native Americans, this one was invented by settlers back in the earliest days of the frontier. Most Natives had never previously brewed anything stronger than wine from fruit or a mild beer from corn, so European fur traders found that they could barter more successfully with Native Americans who had been plied with kegs of liquor.

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Tuesday, November 08

The Debunker: Did a "Crying Indian" Alert America to the Evils of Pollution?

by Ken Jennings

When most Americans think about American Indians in November, it's probably as part of Thanksgiving pageantry: the Wampanoags who gave the hapless Pilgrims food during their first winter at Plymouth and taught them how to grow corn the following spring, the ninety Indians who attended the "first Thanksgiving" feast in 1621. You may not know that, ever since 1990, November has officially been "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States, a time to recognize "the rich ancestry and traditions" of the nation's first inhabitants. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has some reservations about the accuracy of our Native American knowledge. It's never too late to set the record straight!

The Debunker: Did a "Crying Indian" Alert America to the Evils of Pollution?

On Earth Day 1971, the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful launched one of the most iconic TV ad campaigns in history. A Native American man in traditional buckskins canoes down a river until he reaches a polluted modern metropolis. "Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country," intones narrator William Conrad in his distinctive gravelly voice. A passing car tosses garbage at the Indian's moccasined feet. "Some people don't," Conrad adds. A single tear rolls down the Indian's right cheek.

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Tuesday, November 01

The Debunker: Is It Bad to Be the "Low Man on the Totem Pole"?

by Ken Jennings

When most Americans think about American Indians in November, it's probably as part of Thanksgiving pageantry: the Wampanoags who gave the hapless Pilgrims food during their first winter at Plymouth and taught them how to grow corn the following spring, the ninety Indians who attended the "first Thanksgiving" feast in 1621. You may not know that, ever since 1990, November has officially been "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States, a time to recognize "the rich ancestry and traditions" of the nation's first inhabitants. But Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has some reservations about the accuracy of our Native American knowledge. It's never too late to set the record straight!

The Debunker: Is It Bad to Be the "Low Man on the Totem Pole"?

The native tribes of my part of America, the Pacific Northwest, are probably best known for their enormous wood sculptures called totem poles. A single tree trunk, often a red cedar, is carved and painted with a series of human and animal figures representing tribal history and legend. There's a long tradition of decorative house posts among Pacific tribes, but the craft of totem pole carving reached its apex in the 19th century, when the poles were status symbols for wealthy Native families.

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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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