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Tuesday, November 13

The Debunker: Do Opossums "Play Dead"?

by Ken Jennings

If spring is, as the poets tell us, a season of rebirth, then it stands to reason that autumn is a season of death. November is when Christians observe All Souls' Day, the "Day of the Dead," celebrating the souls of the faithful departed. It's also the month that brings with it the most dead leaves, and probably the most dead turkeys as well. But a lot of what you think you know about death in the natural world is "gravely" mistaken. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, is with us all month to debunk a lot of myths about our furry friends who encounter the undiscovered country…or at least a "farm upstate."

The Debunker: Do Opossums "Play Dead"?

In metaphorical human terms, "playing possum" means feigning injury or vulnerability for tactical purposes. It's a ploy, a scheme, a little rope-a-dope. You're lying low to put your opponent off their guard, and maybe strike back when it's least expected.

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Wednesday, November 07

The Debunker: Do Dying Elephants Go to an "Elephant Graveyard"?

by Ken Jennings

If spring is, as the poets tell us, a season of rebirth, then it stands to reason that autumn is a season of death. November is when Christians observe All Souls' Day, the "Day of the Dead," celebrating the souls of the faithful departed. It's also the month that brings with it the most dead leaves, and probably the most dead turkeys as well. But a lot of what you think you know about death in the natural world is "gravely" mistaken. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, is with us all month to debunk a lot of myths about our furry friends who encounter the undiscovered country…or at least a "farm upstate."

The Debunker: Do Dying Elephants Go to an "Elephant Graveyard"?

The legend of the elephants' graveyard—a place old elephants head toward when they sense Time's wingéd chariot hurrying near—goes back at least to the tales of Sinbad the Sailor. As Europeans colonized Africa in the 19th century, the myth of these jungle bone-piles became a kind of El Dorado for eager ivory hunters, and elephants' graveyards were cemented into the public consciousness in movies from Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan and His Mate to Disney's The Lion King.

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Wednesday, October 31

The Debunker: Did Wilt Chamberlain Sleep with 20,000 Women?

by Ken Jennings

It's October and, sports fans, basketball is back. The NBA tips off this month, and college ball is just a few weeks away. To celebrate the return of America's greatest invention (even if Dr. James Naismith, who dreamed up the game in 1891, was Canadian-born) we’ve invited Jeopardy! all-star Ken Jennings to join our team. He'll be on the court here all month blowing the whistle on a lot of hoops hoodoo that may fool a lot of fans. Is your basketball knowledge a slam-dunk or an alley-oops?

The Debunker: Did Wilt Chamberlain Sleep with 20,000 Women?

Almost twenty years after his death, Wilt Chamberlain is famous for his larger-than-life basketball stats: averaging fifty points a game over the course of one season, or shooting 73% from the floor in another, or averaging 27 rebounds per game in another. Not to mention that 1962 game in Hershey, Pennsylvania when he scored 100 points, a record that nobody came within 20 points of for half a century. (Kobe had an 81-point game in 2006, and is currently in second place.) But the amazing stat that people might think of first when it comes to "Wilt the Stilt" is the claim, in his 1991 memoir A View from Above, that he had slept with 20,000 different women over the course of his life.

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Wednesday, October 24

The Debunker: Can Fans Distract a Free Throw Shooter?

by Ken Jennings

It's October and, sports fans, basketball is back. The NBA tips off this month, and college ball is just a few weeks away. To celebrate the return of America's greatest invention (even if Dr. James Naismith, who dreamed up the game in 1891, was Canadian-born) we’ve invited Jeopardy! all-star Ken Jennings to join our team. He'll be on the court here all month blowing the whistle on a lot of hoops hoodoo that may fool a lot of fans. Is your basketball knowledge a slam-dunk or an alley-oops?

The Debunker: Can Fans Distract a Free Throw Shooter?

When it comes to participation, baseball fans not named Steve Bartman are pretty much limited to one role: root, root, root for the home team. But in basketball, fans with the right seats often believe they can change the course of the game! If they sit behind the visiting team's backboard, they can attempt to distract free throw shooters as they step to the line. When this practice began decades ago, it was fairly primitive: fans waggling signs or pom-poms or foam noodles in hopes that the resulting sea of motion, viewed through a glass backboard, would brick a few foul shots. But in recent years, the science of free throw distraction has advanced in bizarre and baroque ways. Today, a player attempting a foul shot on the road might be facing fans spinning hypnosis wheels, hoisting a giant 3D-printed puppet, or wearing masks of the foul shooter's own supermodel wife.

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Thursday, October 18

 

Wednesday, October 17

The Debunker: Did Manute Bol Coin the Phrase "My Bad"?

by Ken Jennings

It's October and, sports fans, basketball is back. The NBA tips off this month, and college ball is just a few weeks away. To celebrate the return of America's greatest invention (even if Dr. James Naismith, who dreamed up the game in 1891, was Canadian-born) we’ve invited Jeopardy! all-star Ken Jennings to join our team. He'll be on the court here all month blowing the whistle on a lot of hoops hoodoo that may fool a lot of fans. Is your basketball knowledge a slam-dunk or an alley-oops?

The Debunker: Did Manute Bol Coin the Phrase "My Bad"?

At nearly 7'7", the late Manute Bol was the second-tallest man ever to play in the NBA. The Sudanese-born Bol spent a decade in the league, as a (mostly backup) center for Washington, Golden State, Philadelphia, and Miami. He led the league twice in blocked shots—his specialty, not surprisingly—but when he passed away from kidney failure in 2010, several obituaries and tributes noted that he had left another legacy to the game. In these accounts, it was claimed that Bol had coined the basketball phrase "my bad." "My bad" became the default way of saying "my fault" or "my mistake" in pick-up games, but it's now a grammatically dubious but common way for anyone to say "Oops, that's on me" in any field—not just for a bad pass or getting beat on defense.

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Tuesday, October 16

 

Monday, October 15

 

Wednesday, October 10

The Debunker: Can a Basketball Player Draw a Charge While Moving?

by Ken Jennings

It's October and, sports fans, basketball is back. The NBA tips off this month, and college ball is just a few weeks away. To celebrate the return of America's greatest invention (even if Dr. James Naismith, who dreamed up the game in 1891, was Canadian-born) we’ve invited Jeopardy! all-star Ken Jennings to join our team. He'll be on the court here all month blowing the whistle on a lot of hoops hoodoo that may fool a lot of fans. Is your basketball knowledge a slam-dunk or an alley-oops?

The Debunker: Can a Basketball Player Draw a Charge While Moving?

Personal contact in real life is a beautiful thing, but personal contact in basketball, if sufficiently significant, will be whistled by the referees as a personal foul. But when contact occurs, a judgment call must be made. Who committed the foul—the ball-carrier or the defender? That's the difference between charging (called on the ball-carrier) and blocking (called on the defender). The usual layman's explanation is that a defender hoping to draw a charge needs to be "set"—that is, not moving his or her feet—when contact is made. And that's not actually how the rules work.

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Wednesday, October 03

The Debunker: What City Gave Us the Harlem Globetrotters?

by Ken Jennings

It's October and, sports fans, basketball is back. The NBA tips off this month, and college ball is just a few weeks away. To celebrate the return of America's greatest invention (even if Dr. James Naismith, who dreamed up the game in 1891, was Canadian-born) we’ve invited Jeopardy! all-star Ken Jennings to join our team. He'll be on the court here all month blowing the whistle on a lot of hoops hoodoo that may fool a lot of fans. Is your basketball knowledge a slam-dunk or an alley-oops?

The Debunker: What City Gave Us the Harlem Globetrotters?

In the 1920s, a Jewish sports agent named Abe Saperstein decided to bail on his dad's tailor shop and devote his life to basketball. Wandering the city parks where he worked as a playground supervisor, Saperstein watched local kids shooting hoops, and dreamed of managing a team of his own. In those pre-NBA days, there was no elite level of organized professional basketball. The best players were on informal traveling teams that "barnstormed" around the country. In 1928, after a pay dispute, the starting lineup of one talented team, the Savoy Big Five, defected to Saperstein, who used them as the core of his new barnstorming team, the Harlem Globetrotters. And where did this all take place? The South Side of Chicago!

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Wednesday, September 26

 

Tuesday, September 25

The Debunker: Did Mussolini Make the Trains Run on Time?

by Ken Jennings

September 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the 1973 coup in which the CIA helped remove the democratically elected (but leftist!) president of Chile, and replaced him with the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. We're celebrating the anniversary by having Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings school us all month on real-life dictators of all kind. Autocratic leaders always have a dim view of actual facts, from ancient Rome up to, well, today, but that's no excuse for us to believe all kinds of silly fake news about them.

The Debunker: Did Mussolini Make the Trains Run on Time?

Today, the fact that "Mussolini made the trains run on time" is usually raised sardonically, in recognition of the fact that even the worst political situations can have trivial upsides. It's the fascist version of "Every cloud has a silver lining." The problem with the fact (besides the iffy utility of a proverb that means "Fascism is efficient!") is that it's not historically accurate.

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Wednesday, September 19

The Debunker: What's a Fatwa

by Ken Jennings

September 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the 1973 coup in which the CIA helped remove the democratically elected (but leftist!) president of Chile, and replaced him with the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. We're celebrating the anniversary by having Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings school us all month on real-life dictators of all kind. Autocratic leaders always have a dim view of actual facts, from ancient Rome up to, well, today, but that's no excuse for us to believe all kinds of silly fake news about them.

The Debunker: What's a Fatwa?

Salman Rushdie was already one of the world's most acclaimed authors in 1988 when he published his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. The book was immediately controversial among Muslims for various blasphemous elements—including the title, which referred to a disputed tradition that a few verses of the Qur'an had been retracted by Muhammad once he realized they had been inspired by the devil, not divine revelation at all. The same month that the book was published in the United States, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic theocracy, issued a "fatwa" in which he decreed that Rushdie, "along with all the editors and publishers aware of [the book's] contents, are condemned to death." Muslims were called upon to execute these killings "without delay."

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Wednesday, September 12

 

Tuesday, September 11

The Debunker: How Many Testicles Did Hitler Have?

by Ken Jennings

September 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the 1973 coup in which the CIA helped remove the democratically elected (but leftist!) president of Chile, and replaced him with the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. We're celebrating the anniversary by having Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings school us all month on real-life dictators of all kind. Autocratic leaders always have a dim view of actual facts, from ancient Rome up to, well, today, but that's no excuse for us to believe all kinds of silly fake news about them.

The Debunker: How Many Testicles Did Hitler Have?

You know the "Colonel Bogey March"? That jaunty air that the prisoners whistle in Bridge on the River Kwai? During World War II, the march got a new lease on life in Britain, with new lyrics enjoyed by young and old alike:

Hitler has only got one ball
Göring has two but very small
Himmler is rather sim'lar
​But poor old Goebbels has no balls at all

It's catchy—even though the contortions required to make "Goebbels" rhyme with "no balls" fairly boggle the mind.

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Friday, September 07

 

Wednesday, September 05

The Debunker: Did Kim Jong-il Claim to Have Shot Five Holes in One the First Time He Ever Golfed?

by Ken Jennings

September 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the 1973 coup in which the CIA helped remove the democratically elected (but leftist!) president of Chile, and replaced him with the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. We're celebrating the anniversary by having Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings school us all month on real-life dictators of all kind. Autocratic leaders always have a dim view of actual facts, from ancient Rome up to, well, today, but that's no excuse for us to believe all kinds of silly fake news about them.

The Debunker: Did Kim Jong-il Claim to Have Shot Five Holes in One the First Time He Ever Golfed?

The despotic, cult-like Kim dynasty has ruled the nation of North Korea since its 1948 founding. You probably assume that Kim Jong-un is the North Korean president today, but that's not technically true. According to the country's constitution, Kim is currently the "Supreme Leader" of the country, but the title of "Eternal President" stays with his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. They will always be the official heads of state, though they died in 1994 and 2011, respectively. And you thought American millennials would never be able to retire!

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