Wednesday, September 27

The Debunker: Was Stanford University Really Founded After Harvard Snobs Blew Off a Millionaire?

by Ken Jennings

It's September and parents are rejoicing, because kids are (finally!) heading back to school! Crayons and binders and graphing calculators are flying off store shelves; beanbag chairs for dorm rooms are getting stuffed into the backs of station wagons. But maybe we all need to be taken to school, because a lot of the stuff we think we know about education would get us an 'F' on the final exam. Ken Jennings, that Jeopardy! guy, will be standing in front of the class all month with his red marker at the ready, to correct all that academic misinformation.

The Debunker: Was Stanford University Really Founded After Harvard Snobs Blew Off a Millionaire?

A popular viral e-mail from the late 1990s tells a colorful moral tale about the founding of Stanford University. A timid country couple steps off a train in Boston and tries to get in to see the president of Harvard University. When he finally agrees to see them, just to get them out of his office, they explain that they want to arrange a memorial to their son, a Harvard student who had recently died in an accident. They'd like to build a building on campus. The fed-up president explains that Harvard's campus cost several million dollars, and is probably out of their price range. The couple, after hearing that number, returns to California and starts up their own university in Palo Alto—because they were Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford! And that's…the rest of the story.

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Wednesday, September 20

The Debunker: Will You Get Straight A's If Your College Roommate Commits Suicide?

by Ken Jennings

It's September and parents are rejoicing, because kids are (finally!) heading back to school! Crayons and binders and graphing calculators are flying off store shelves; beanbag chairs for dorm rooms are getting stuffed into the backs of station wagons. But maybe we all need to be taken to school, because a lot of the stuff we think we know about education would get us an 'F' on the final exam. Ken Jennings, that Jeopardy! guy, will be standing in front of the class all month with his red marker at the ready, to correct all that academic misinformation.

The Debunker: Will You Get Straight A's If Your College Roommate Commits Suicide?

Short answer: YES! But only if you already had straight A's before the tragedy as well.

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Wednesday, September 13

The Debunker: What Is a "Steep" Learning Curve?

by Ken Jennings

It's September and parents are rejoicing, because kids are (finally!) heading back to school! Crayons and binders and graphing calculators are flying off store shelves; beanbag chairs for dorm rooms are getting stuffed into the backs of station wagons. But maybe we all need to be taken to school, because a lot of the stuff we think we know about education would get us an 'F' on the final exam. Ken Jennings, that Jeopardy! guy, will be standing in front of the class all month with his red marker at the ready, to correct all that academic misinformation.

The Debunker: What Is a "Steep" Learning Curve?

Colloquially speaking, lots of things have a steep learning curve. The French horn. Arabic, Mandarin, and Hungarian. Adobe Photoshop. Those insanely complicated World War II board games that your weirdest college roommate liked to play. We understand the phrase "steep learning curve" to refer to difficulty, like the steepness of climbing a hill: it takes a lot of effort to make gains in proficiency when learning a daunting new skill set.

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Wednesday, September 06

The Debunker: Did Albert Einstein Fail Math?

by Ken Jennings

It's September and parents are rejoicing, because kids are (finally!) heading back to school! Crayons and binders and graphing calculators are flying off store shelves; beanbag chairs for dorm rooms are getting stuffed into the backs of station wagons. But maybe we all need to be taken to school, because a lot of the stuff we think we know about education would get us an 'F' on the final exam. Ken Jennings, that Jeopardy! guy, will be standing in front of the class all month with his red marker at the ready, to correct all that academic misinformation.

The Debunker: Did Albert Einstein Fail Math?

Poor Einstein. You spend your whole life revolutionizing the human race's vision of the universe, and when you die your bad report card still gets used as a cautionary tale/motivational speech for misfit youngsters. I guess that's what they mean by "This will go down on your permanent record."

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Tuesday, September 27

The Debunker: Is There a Clinical Fear of Getting Peanut Butter Stuck on the Roof of Your Mouth?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate National Peanut Day every September 13? Of course, we all do! It's a cruel coincidence that the peanut's big moment comes every fall, just as kids are returning to their increasingly peanut-free schools. If you're not allergic, you probably love peanuts in your trail mix, on sundaes, or in sandwiches (butter form only). But how much do you really know about the protein-rich foodstuff? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here to tell us that a lot of your favorite facts about this beloved snack are just plain nuts.

The Debunker: Is There a Clinical Fear of Getting Peanut Butter Stuck on the Roof of Your Mouth?

There's an eighteen-letter-word that's been a trivia favorite for decades, appearing everywhere from board games to Snapple caps to reference books: arachibutyrophobia. This scary-sounding psychiatric disorder is usually cited as something fairly harmless-seeming: "the fear of getting peanut butter stuck on the roof of your mouth." Boy, psychiatrists have a phobia for everything these days, don't they?!?

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Tuesday, September 20

The Debunker: In "Peanuts" Is Charlie Brown Bald?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate National Peanut Day every September 13? Of course, we all do! It's a cruel coincidence that the peanut's big moment comes every fall, just as kids are returning to their increasingly peanut-free schools. If you're not allergic, you probably love peanuts in your trail mix, on sundaes, or in sandwiches (butter form only). But how much do you really know about the protein-rich foodstuff? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here to tell us that a lot of your favorite facts about this beloved snack are just plain nuts.

The Debunker: In Peanuts, Is Charlie Brown Bald?

Charles Schulz always hated the name Peanuts. When he pitched his revolutionary comic strip to United Feature Syndicate in 1950, he called it Li'l Folks, the name of his panel comic about children that had been running since 1947 in the St. Paul Pioneer Post. Production manager Bill Anderson suggested Peanuts as a replacement name, referring to the "peanut gallery" audience used by children's TV shows of the time. Schulz thought the new name was "totally ridiculous" and lacked dignity, and spent years trying to get his bosses to retitle the strip Good Ol' Charlie Brown. That's why the Sunday strip was labeled as Peanuts, featuring Good Ol' Charlie Brown for most of its run.

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Tuesday, September 13

The Debunker: Are Peanuts Nuts?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate National Peanut Day every September 13? Of course, we all do! It's a cruel coincidence that the peanut's big moment comes every fall, just as kids are returning to their increasingly peanut-free schools. If you're not allergic, you probably love peanuts in your trail mix, on sundaes, or in sandwiches (butter form only). But how much do you really know about the protein-rich foodstuff? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here to tell us that a lot of your favorite facts about this beloved snack are just plain nuts.

The Debunker: Are Peanuts Nuts?

Peanuts took a roundabout route to get to your kitchen cupboard. They were carved on pottery and left in Peruvian tombs five thousand years ago, and European settlers first ran across them in Brazil. Then the Portuguese spread them around the world, as far as Africa and China. But they didn't catch on in North America until African slaves returned them to the New World, planting them in Virginia. Dive bars and ballgames would never be the same again. In the 19th century, this new crop was often called the "ground nut" or the "ground pea"; our word "peanut" is a conflation of the two. But strictly speaking, peanuts are neither peas nor nuts.

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Tuesday, September 06

The Debunker: Who Invented Peanut Butter?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate National Peanut Day every September 13? Of course, we all do! It's a cruel coincidence that the peanut's big moment comes every fall, just as kids are returning to their increasingly peanut-free schools. If you're not allergic, you probably love peanuts in your trail mix, on sundaes, or in sandwiches (butter form only). But how much do you really know about the protein-rich foodstuff? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here to tell us that a lot of your favorite facts about this beloved snack are just plain nuts.

The Debunker: Who Invented Peanut Butter?

George Washington Carver was one of the most celebrated American intellectuals of his time. As a freed slave who rose from poverty to become a successful botanist at a time when nearly all educational and professional doors were closed to African-Americans, Carver was a powerful icon of black talent and achievement. He consulted with world leaders from Teddy Roosevelt to Mahatma Gandhi. But that doesn't mean that Carver's legacy is purely symbolic. He also pioneered methods of crop rotation that saved the farms of countless poor Southerners whose cotton and tobacco fields were failing due to poor soil and hungry bugs.

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Tuesday, September 22

The Debunker: Did Napoleon's Soldiers Shoot Off the Sphinx's Nose?

by Ken Jennings

Summer's winding down as we enter September—or, as they would have called it in ancient Egypt, Akhet, the height of the rainy season that flooded the Nile once a year and made their entire civilization possible. Ken Jennings has a new book out this month on the land of the pharaohs, so all month he'll be sharing his sphinx-like wisdom with us by debunking millennia of misinformation about the ancient Egyptians. Maybe you've been in "de Nile" for a long time, but finally, here are the Ra facts.

The Debunker: Did Napoleon's Soldiers Shoot Off the Sphinx's Nose?

The Great Sphinx at Giza is the largest single-stone statue in the world, and an iconic symbol of Ancient Egypt. It would be even larger (though less iconic) if it had something that most other statues do: a nose! Napoleon Bonaparte campaigned in Egypt in 1798, and a popular legend has a ball from one of his cannons knocking off the Sphinx's nose. One act of lousy French marksmanship and a four-thousand-year-old statue gets scarred for life!

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Tuesday, September 15

The Debunker: Did a "Curse of King Tut" Strike Down His Tomb's Discoverers?

by Ken Jennings

Summer's winding down as we enter September—or, as they would have called it in ancient Egypt, Akhet, the height of the rainy season that flooded the Nile once a year and made their entire civilization possible. Ken Jennings has a new book out this month on the land of the pharaohs, so all month he'll be sharing his sphinx-like wisdom with us by debunking millennia of misinformation about the ancient Egyptians. Maybe you've been in "de Nile" for a long time, but finally, here are the Ra facts.

The Debunker: Did a "Curse of King Tut" Strike Down His Tomb's Discoverers?

The tomb of Tutankhamen, the "boy Pharaoh" of Egypt's New Kingdom, survived undiscovered for over three thousand years before archaeologist Howard Carter discovered it in 1922. When Carter's financier, Lord Carnarvon, died of blood poisoning two months later, the press began to report that an inscription in King Tut's tomb promised that "Death will slay with his wings whoever disturbs the peace of the pharaoh," and news reports eventually credited almost two dozen deaths to this "curse." The spooky story inspired all kinds of modern folklore, including the Boris Karloff Mummy movie.

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