Tuesday, April 12

The Debunker: Did Some Dinosaurs Have a Second Brain in Their Butt?

by Ken Jennings

It's been a long time—66 million years!—since the Cretaceous Period ended in explosive fashion, so there's a lot we don't know about our predecessors atop the food chain, the dinosaurs. Were they hot-blooded or cold-blooded, fast or slow, pack animals or lone hunters? What color were they, and what did they sound like? Could you really use one to make a record player, like the Flintstones did? Luckily, our Jeopardy! correspondent Ken Jennings has just published his seventh Junior Genius Guide, this one all about the dinosaurs! He's here all month to straighten us out on all the Mesozoic misinformation we thought we knew.

The Debunker: Did Some Dinosaurs Have a Second Brain in Their Butt?

Poor Stegosaurus. He hasn't walked the Earth for 150 million years, and people are still talking about how dumb he was. That's pretty much his whole reputation. He's the Dan Quayle of dinosaurs.

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Tuesday, April 05

The Debunker: Is the Oil in Your Car Made from Dead Dinosaurs?

by Ken Jennings

It's been a long time—66 million years!—since the Cretaceous Period ended in explosive fashion, so there's a lot we don't know about our predecessors atop the food chain, the dinosaurs. Were they hot-blooded or cold-blooded, fast or slow, pack animals or lone hunters? What color were they, and what did they sound like? Could you really use one to make a record player, like the Flintstones did? Luckily, our Jeopardy! correspondent Ken Jennings has just published his seventh Junior Genius Guide, this one all about the dinosaurs! He's here all month to straighten us out on all the Mesozoic misinformation we thought we knew.

The Debunker: Is the Oil in Your Car Made from Dead Dinosaurs?

We call oil, coal, and gas "fossil fuels" because they were produced by the decomposition of animal life from hundreds of millions of years ago. For over eighty years, Sinclair Oil has been playing up this prehistoric connection: using a bright green brontosaurus as its logo, giving away inflatable sauropods to kids, putting talking cartoon dinosaurs in its TV ads, and even calling its premium gas "Dino Supreme." (Now with 15 percent more "Dino"!) Generations of American kids should be forgiven for assuming that the fossil fuels in their plastics and furnaces and gas tanks were actually made of dinosaur fossils.

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Tuesday, March 29

The Debunker: What Color Is the "Black Box" on an Airplane?

by Ken Jennings

In 2009, a global cabal of artists, designers, and scientists called the International Colour Association decided to create a day to honour—er, "honor"—color in all its forms. International Colour Day is now celebrated every March 21, since that's the spring equinox, the day when light and darkness are in perfect balance. All month, we're going to have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings with us, debunking a full spectrum of chromatic claptrap. Your trivia knowledge will soon be in the pink.

The Debunker: What Color Is the "Black Box" on an Airplane?

Like many important inventions, you never hear about them unless something has already gone terribly wrong. By law, the rear fuselage of every commercial airliner in the world—sometimes the rear cargo hold, sometimes a compartment above the galley ceiling—carries a device that records flight data and cockpit audio while the plane is in flight. This is the famous "black box" that's designed to tell investigators what went wrong when a plane goes down.

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Tuesday, March 22

The Debunker: Is There a Chemical That Makes Pool Water + Pee Turn Blue?

by Ken Jennings

In 2009, a global cabal of artists, designers, and scientists called the International Colour Association decided to create a day to honour—er, "honor"—color in all its forms. International Colour Day is now celebrated every March 21, since that's the spring equinox, the day when light and darkness are in perfect balance. All month, we're going to have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings with us, debunking a full spectrum of chromatic claptrap. Your trivia knowledge will soon be in the pink.

The Debunker: Is There a Chemical That Makes Pool Water + Pee Turn Blue?

Odds are, you do it too. According to a 2015 poll by the Internet media company Travelzoo, fully 64 percent of Americans admit to peeing in the swimming pool rather than getting out and walking to the restroom like civilized people. With all these people turning the piscine into a total piss scene, you'd think someone would have wondered by now: where are the telltale plumes of dark blue, from the urine indicator in the water? We've seen this stuff at work in movies like Grown-Ups and Take This Waltz, right? Everyone knows public pools have a secret chemical that turns a different color in the presence of pee.

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Tuesday, March 15

The Debunker: What Color Did Ninjas Wear?

by Ken Jennings

In 2009, a global cabal of artists, designers, and scientists called the International Colour Association decided to create a day to honour—er, "honor"—color in all its forms. International Colour Day is now celebrated every March 21, since that's the spring equinox, the day when light and darkness are in perfect balance. All month, we're going to have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings with us, debunking a full spectrum of chromatic claptrap. Your trivia knowledge will soon be in the pink.

The Debunker: What Color Did Ninjas Wear?

Writing these "Debunker" columns, I often feel like a professional buzzkill. Is there something you think is cool? The red telephone between the President and the Soviets? Porcupines shooting their quills? Pirates making treasure maps? Yeah, none of these things ever happened. So I couldn't be more relieved to tell you today: ninjas were real. In medieval Japan, they were master spies, saboteurs, and assassins. The skulking across rooftops, the disguises, the darts and throwing stars—it's true. All of it.

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Tuesday, March 08

The Debunker: Was the "Hotline" of the Cold War a Red Telephone?

by Ken Jennings

In 2009, a global cabal of artists, designers, and scientists called the International Colour Association decided to create a day to honour—er, "honor"—color in all its forms. International Colour Day is now celebrated every March 21, since that's the spring equinox, the day when light and darkness are in perfect balance. All month, we're going to have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings with us, debunking a full spectrum of chromatic claptrap. Your trivia knowledge will soon be in the pink.

The Debunker: Was the "Hotline" of the Cold War a Red Telephone?

Of all the emergency hotlines in geopolitical history (Seoul–Pyonyang, Islamabad–New Delhi, Commissioner Gordon–Batman) none is more iconic than the direct Cold War-era link between Washington, D.C. and Moscow. You know, the gleaming red telephone on the desk of the Oval Office. You've seen it in movies and spy novels going all the way back to Fail-Safe in 1964. But prepare to be disappointed: the so-called "red telephone" was never in the White House. And it wasn't red. And it wasn't a telephone.

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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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