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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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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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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