Wednesday, October 25

The Debunker: Is Crime on the Rise?

by Ken Jennings

October is Crime Prevention Month, says the National Crime Prevention Council, and would the nonprofit that brought you McGruff the Crime Dog lie to you about crime prevention? In honor of the occasion, we've decided to shine the hard light of truth on the underbelly of the criminal underworld. As a Jeopardy! superhero, Ken Jennings doesn't fight crime—just misinformation about crime. He'll be here all month debunking felonious falsehoods and misdemeanor myths.

The Debunker: Is Crime on the Rise?

If there's one thing Americans always agree on, despite the shifting winds of politics, it's that crime in this country is increasing. Gallup has been asking Americans since 1993 if they think crime is up over the past year; in every single year except for 2001, most respondents said yes, there's more crime lately. Pew Research's most recent numbers, from late 2016, show 57 percent of voters share this gloomy perspective on crime stats. Fully 78 percent of Trump voters believed crime numbers are getting worse, which could either be a cause or effect of their candidate's frequent insistence, on the campaign trail, that crime is up.

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Wednesday, October 18

The Debunker: Did Witnesses Ignore the Murder of Kitty Genovese?

by Ken Jennings

October is Crime Prevention Month, says the National Crime Prevention Council, and would the nonprofit that brought you McGruff the Crime Dog lie to you about crime prevention? In honor of the occasion, we've decided to shine the hard light of truth on the underbelly of the criminal underworld. As a Jeopardy! superhero, Ken Jennings doesn't fight crime—just misinformation about crime. He'll be here all month debunking felonious falsehoods and misdemeanor myths.

The Debunker: Did Witnesses Ignore the Murder of Kitty Genovese?

The tragic 1964 stabbing of Queens resident Kitty Genovese would probably be completely forgotten today—there were 636 murders committed in New York City that year, after all—if not for a follow-up story printed in The New York Times on March 27, which reported that thirty-seven neighbors had witnessed the killing outside Genovese's own apartment building—and not called the police! This launched decades of study into the mysterious phenomenon that psychologists call bystander apathy, or even "the Genovese effect": the decreasing likelihood that an individual will intercede in a situation as the number of onlookers increases.

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Wednesday, October 11

The Debunker: Is the "F Word" an Acronym for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge"?

by Ken Jennings

October is Crime Prevention Month, says the National Crime Prevention Council, and would the nonprofit that brought you McGruff the Crime Dog lie to you about crime prevention? In honor of the occasion, we've decided to shine the hard light of truth on the underbelly of the criminal underworld. As a Jeopardy! superhero, Ken Jennings doesn't fight crime—just misinformation about crime. He'll be here all month debunking felonious falsehoods and misdemeanor myths.

The Debunker: Is the "F Word" an Acronym for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge"?

Because its history often went unwritten for reasons of propriety, the notorious "f-word" has left itself open to all kinds of crazy folk etymologies. In two common versions, the word is actually an acronym. Sometimes the word is said to come from a sign advertising that a newlywed couple's marriage in olden times had been approved by the crown: "Fornication Under Consent of the King." (Presumably when a woman sat on the throne, the word was spelled "fucq.") In another version, prisoners locked in the stocks for sexual shenanigans were placed under a sign that read "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge." Van Halen was so charmed by the transgressive power of this last acronym that they named a 1991 album and tour after it. Those naughty boys!

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Wednesday, October 04

The Debunker: Can You Alert the Police by Entering Your Bank PIN Backwards?

by Ken Jennings

October is Crime Prevention Month, says the National Crime Prevention Council, and would the nonprofit that brought you McGruff the Crime Dog lie to you about crime prevention? In honor of the occasion, we've decided to shine the hard light of truth on the underbelly of the criminal underworld. As a Jeopardy! superhero, Ken Jennings doesn't fight crime—just misinformation about crime. He'll be here all month debunking felonious falsehoods and misdemeanor myths.

The Debunker: Can You Alert the Police by Entering Your Bank PIN Backwards?

Say you're held up by a ne'er-do-well while using a bank machine, or forced by a mugger to accompany him to an ATM and withdraw the maximum from your bank account. Wouldn't it be great if you could try the thing that those chain e-mails say you can do? According to the rumor, you could enter your security number in reverse, a distress signal like flying the American flag upside-down. This would alert the police, who could swoop in and apprehend the card-confiscating scofflaw.

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Tuesday, October 25

The Debunker: Does "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" Stand for LSD?

by Ken Jennings

Thanks to the hard work of the Association of American State Geologists, the second week of October has been officially declared "Earth Science Week" every year since 1998. So we decided to have Jeopardy!'s rarest gem, Ken Jennings, school us on the hardest rock of them all: diamonds. Are they really forever? Are they a girl's best friend? Let's shed the cold, hard light of 10-carat truth onto some of these semiprecious superstitions.

The Debunker: Does "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" Stand for LSD?

In the spring of 1965, John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives were having dinner with a friend, the cosmetic dentist John Riley. (When you're the biggest rock stars in the world, you can hang out with pretty much any dentist you want!) Riley wanted the Beatles to try the newest craze in swinging London, so he laced their coffee with a still-legal lab chemical called lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. John wasn't crazy about the surprise, but ended up loving his first trip, which he described as "a very concentrated version of the best feeling I'd ever had." Acid became a big influence on John's songwriting, leading to Beatles classics like "She Said, She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows."

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Tuesday, October 18

The Debunker: Is a Diamond Engagement Ring Traditional?

by Ken Jennings

Thanks to the hard work of the Association of American State Geologists, the second week of October has been officially declared "Earth Science Week" every year since 1998. So we decided to have Jeopardy!'s rarest gem, Ken Jennings, school us on the hardest rock of them all: diamonds. Are they really forever? Are they a girl's best friend? Let's shed the cold, hard light of 10-carat truth onto some of these semiprecious superstitions.

The Debunker: Is a Diamond Engagement Ring Traditional?

Today, everyone knows that if you like it, you should put a ring on it. Diamonds, after all, are an age-old symbol of permanence and strength. What could be a better symbol for the start of a marriage? You'll probably be surprised to hear that the idea of a diamond engagement ring isn't a storied tradition at all. In fact, it's a mid-20th century invention, the result of the most successful ad campaign in history.

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Tuesday, October 11

The Debunker: Is It Really Hard to Crush a Diamond?

by Ken Jennings

Thanks to the hard work of the Association of American State Geologists, the second week of October has been officially declared "Earth Science Week" every year since 1998. So we decided to have Jeopardy!'s rarest gem, Ken Jennings, school us on the hardest rock of them all: diamonds. Are they really forever? Are they a girl's best friend? Let's shed the cold, hard light of 10-carat truth onto some of these semiprecious superstitions.

The Debunker: Is It Really Hard to Crush a Diamond?

At some point in school, I had to learn the Mohs scale of hardness, which assigns numerical values to ten different minerals in order of hardness. I've forgotten most of the actual minerals, though. 1 is talc, I think, which is as soft as rock ever gets, unless you count 1970s AM radio. I don't remember any of the others. Except 10! Nobody ever forgets 10. 10 is diamond. 10 is as hard as rock can get. 10 is Black Sabbath or Cannibal Corpse.

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Tuesday, October 04

The Debunker: Do Diamonds Come from Coal?

by Ken Jennings

Thanks to the hard work of the Association of American State Geologists, the second week of October has been officially declared "Earth Science Week" every year since 1998. So we decided to have Jeopardy!'s rarest gem, Ken Jennings, school us on the hardest rock of them all: diamonds. Are they really forever? Are they a girl's best friend? Let's shed the cold, hard light of 10-carat truth onto some of these semiprecious superstitions.

The Debunker: Do Diamonds Come from Coal?

It's one of Superman's best tricks: hold a lump of coal in his soft, supple Kryptonian hands and casually compress it into a beautiful diamond. Lois Lane swoons. We nod appreciatively, dimly remembering from junior high that this is possible because diamonds are made of carbon, the same element that forms coal. Science!

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Tuesday, October 27

The Debunker: Is the Devil Called "Lucifer" in the Bible?

by Ken Jennings

October means Halloween is coming—you know, the very witching hour of night when churchyards yawn and graves give up their dead and so on. But if you're still picking out your costume—and you're looking for something a little scarier than Sexy Donald Trump—you might need a refresher course, because it's surprising how much we don't know about some of our most iconic monsters. Luckily, Jeopardy! monster Ken Jennings has unchained his debunking abilities and is ready with the spooky scoop.

The Debunker: Is the Devil Called "Lucifer" in the Bible?

When it comes to a real traditional monster for a trick-or-treating costume, it's hard to beat your classic devil: horns, pitchfork, red pancake makeup. I guess it's not the best choice for a Halloween party at a church or Catholic elementary school or weirdo Evangelical homeschooling collective, but hey, most organizations that would frown on a devil costume probably don't believe in Halloween parties anyway.

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Tuesday, October 20

The Debunker: Was the Monster in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" Built from Corpses?

by Ken Jennings

October means Halloween is coming—you know, the very witching hour of night when churchyards yawn and graves give up their dead and so on. But if you're still picking out your costume—and you're looking for something a little scarier than Sexy Donald Trump—you might need a refresher course, because it's surprising how much we don't know about some of our most iconic monsters. Luckily, Jeopardy! monster Ken Jennings has unchained his debunking abilities and is ready with the spooky scoop.

The Debunker: Was the Monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Built from Corpses?

Yes, yes, we all know by now that "Frankenstein" is actually not the name of the monster in Mary Shelley's landmark 1818 horror novel (or any of the dozens of subsequent adaptations). Victor Frankenstein is the ethically challenged scientists who creates the monster; the creation itself is usually just called something generic like "creature" or "fiend." The confusion pre-dates the Boris Karloff movie by over a century, but it's still a little odd. I guess the monster does consider himself to be Frankenstein's son, in a sense, so you could argue that he would inherit his surname, but Shelley never uses that idea in the book. The title character of the book is meant to be the scientist, full stop.

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