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Wednesday, June 19

 

Wednesday, June 12

The Debunker: Did Michael Phelps Really Eat 12,000 Calories a Day?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER It's June and summer is just around the corner, which means long lazy hours at the ol' swimming hole. But watch out for two water hazards. First of all, that water can be colder than you think, even on the warmest June days, so stay safe out there. Secondly, a lot of the stuff you think you know about swimming might not actually float in real life. Take a few laps around the pool with Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! He'll dive in and set you straight.

The Debunker: Did Michael Phelps Really Eat 12,000 Calories a Day?

In 2008, when American swimmer Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, my six-year-old son idolized him. He wore his swimsuit around the house all day every day, standing up on random pieces of furniture like they were medal stands and putting plastic medals around his own neck. But as a paunchy dad, what I envied about Phelps was his diet. Newspapers reported that Phelps, to keep his energy levels up in competition, was eating a whopping 12,000 calories every day. On a typical day, that would be a 4,000-calorie breakfast of French toast, pancakes, and fried egg sandwiches, a 4,000-calorie lunch of pasta, ham sandwiches, and energy drinks, and a 4,000-calorie dinner of pasta, pizza, and more energy drinks. Living the dream!

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Wednesday, June 05

The Debunker: Will Sharks Die If They Stop Swimming?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER It's June and summer is just around the corner, which means long lazy hours at the ol' swimming hole. But watch out for two water hazards. First of all, that water can be colder than you think, even on the warmest June days, so stay safe out there. Secondly, a lot of the stuff you think you know about swimming might not actually float in real life. Take a few laps around the pool with Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! He'll dive in and set you straight.

The Debunker: Will Sharks Die If They Stop Swimming?

I assume it was Annie Hall that brought this belief to the American public. "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know?" says Woody Allen's character Alvy Singer near the end of the film. "It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."

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Thursday, May 30

The Debunker: Can Mormons Drink Coke?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER On May 8, 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, two men tried to mix up a batch of a new pain reliever for their pharmacy. The result was so delicious they marketed it as a soft drink instead, and Coca-Cola was born. Coke turned 133 years old this month, but any brand that's been so beloved for so long is liable to accumulate its share of folklore. Take a brief, refreshing pause to correct your carbonated conjectures about Coke with Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings.

The Debunker: Can Mormons Drink Coke?

Granted, this is a myth that comes up more often for me than it does for 99.9% of you, since I am (a) Mormon and (b) a big Coke drinker. But it seems pretty persistent:

In a way, I'm flattered and impressed when my soda choice is questioned, because at least it means the other person is aware that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("the Mormons!") don't drink caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea. This is a plot point in the "Spooky Mormon Hell Drink" number of Broadway's The Book of Mormon, which has helped educate America on this point. In that musical's vision of Mormon hell, giant forbidden Starbucks cups gyrate in the underworld alongside Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Johnnie Cochrane.

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Wednesday, May 22

The Debunker: Did Coca-Cola Advertising Create the Modern Santa Claus?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER On May 8, 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, two men tried to mix up a batch of a new pain reliever for their pharmacy. The result was so delicious they marketed it as a soft drink instead, and Coca-Cola was born. Coke turned 133 years old this month, but any brand that's been so beloved for so long is liable to accumulate its share of folklore. Take a brief, refreshing pause to correct your carbonated conjectures about Coke with Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings.

The Debunker: Did Coca-Cola Advertising Create the Modern Santa Claus?

Maybe it's the red-and-white suit? Trivia types often bandy about the "little-known fact" that Santa Claus, the jolly symbol of Christmas giving, is not a figure of folklore at all, but was dreamed up in a series of midcentury holiday ads for Coca-Cola. Is Santa really just a soda pop pitchman? Even the Coke website wants you to believe this. "Coca-Cola did help to create the modern-day image of Santa," it boasts, "and in fact the way most of us see Santa Claus – friendly and plump with a white beard – did come from Coca-Cola advertising."

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Wednesday, May 15

The Debunker: Did Mikey Die from Drinking Pop Rocks in Coke?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER On May 8, 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, two men tried to mix up a batch of a new pain reliever for their pharmacy. The result was so delicious they marketed it as a soft drink instead, and Coca-Cola was born. Coke turned 133 years old this month, but any brand that's been so beloved for so long is liable to accumulate its share of folklore. Take a brief, refreshing pause to correct your carbonated conjectures about Coke with Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings.

The Debunker: Did Mikey Die from Drinking Pop Rocks in Coke?

For Generation X, it was one of the most indelible and influential TV commercials of the era. A picky eater named "Little Mikey" is encouraged by his skeptical older brothers to try Quaker Oats' healthy-looking cereal Life. To everyone's surprise, "He likes it!"

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Wednesday, April 24

The Debunker: What Did Ralph Waldo Emerson Recommend You Invent?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada! Dreamed up in 1966 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a chance to celebrate poetry of all kinds and get the poetry-skeptical to read or write some of their own. But Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here this month to tell you that not everything you think you know about American poetry is historically accurate. Here's the poem he sent us for the occasion: "This is just to say / I have corrected the false poetry facts / that were in your brain / and which / you have probably / believed since high school / Forgive me / they were irresistible / so wrong / and so easy to Google."

The Debunker: What Did Ralph Waldo Emerson Recommend You Invent?

The poet, essayist, and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was a true American original. But his Transcendentalist writings have turned out to be less influential on the American mind than his famous adage "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." Taking the quote incredibly literally, around forty thousand inventors have applied for mousetrap patents to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, waiting for the inevitable rush of investors to appear at their door. The patent office still grants about forty patents a year for mousetrap designs, for a grand total of over 4,400 patents, more than any other device.

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Wednesday, April 17

The Debunker: Was Emily Dickinson a Mysterious Recluse?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada! Dreamed up in 1966 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a chance to celebrate poetry of all kinds and get the poetry-skeptical to read or write some of their own. But Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here this month to tell you that not everything you think you know about American poetry is historically accurate. Here's the poem he sent us for the occasion: "This is just to say / I have corrected the false poetry facts / that were in your brain / and which / you have probably / believed since high school / Forgive me / they were irresistible / so wrong / and so easy to Google."

The Debunker: Was Emily Dickinson a Mysterious Recluse?

Everyone knows the legend of the mysterious "Belle of Amherst," Emily Dickinson, writing her striking and inventive poetry alone in her upstairs bedroom, refusing to leave her seclusion for any reason. Often this version of Dickinson paints her as a lovelorn spinster, and can border on a patronizing condescension we rarely see in the treatment of male writers.

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Wednesday, April 10

The Debunker: Is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" about Individualism?

by Ken Jennings

THE DEBUNKER April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada! Dreamed up in 1966 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a chance to celebrate poetry of all kinds and get the poetry-skeptical to read or write some of their own. But Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here this month to tell you that not everything you think you know about American poetry is historically accurate. Here's the poem he sent us for the occasion: "This is just to say / I have corrected the false poetry facts / that were in your brain / and which / you have probably / believed since high school / Forgive me / they were irresistible / so wrong / and so easy to Google."

The Debunker: Is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" about Individualism?

Okay, first of all, it's "The Road Not Taken," not "The Road Less Traveled." Robert Frost's yearbook and dorm poster and graduation speech staple is, according to Google search metrics, the most famous poem of the 20th century by a wide margin. But, as the New York Times Book Review critic David Orr convincingly argued in a 2015 book, the poem probably doesn't mean what you think it means.

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Wednesday, April 03

The Debunker: Are You Supposed to Style His Name as "e. e. cummings"?

by Ken Jennings

April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada! Dreamed up in 1966 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a chance to celebrate poetry of all kinds and get the poetry-skeptical to read or write some of their own. But Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! is here this month to tell you that not everything you think you know about American poetry is historically accurate. Here's the poem he sent us for the occasion: "This is just to say / I have corrected the false poetry facts / that were in your brain / and which / you have probably / believed since high school / Forgive me / they were irresistible / so wrong / and so easy to Google."

The Debunker: Are You Supposed to Style His Name as "e. e. cummings"?

Edward Estlin Cummings was one of the great modernist poets, famously fooling around with syntax, spelling, and typography in much-anthologized poems like "in Just-" and "anyhow lived in a pretty how town." As you can tell from the titles of those verses alone, Cummings had a predilection for lower-case letters—though not exclusively. "in Just-," his poem about spring that often makes its way into children's textbooks so kids can freak out about the crazy spacing, has two capital letters, including the one in the title. His work uses capital letters all the time, in fact—just not always in places your English teacher would approve of. For example, he almost always wrote the pronoun "I" as "i."

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Wednesday, March 27

The Debunker: Are You Within Three Feet of a Spider Right Now?

by Ken Jennings

Mathletes probably know that March 14 is celebrated as "Pi Day," because 3/14 is a natural time to salute the decimal approximation of pi, 3.14. But if you're a science nerd who's more into biology than physics, you'll be happy to know that March 14 is also National Save a Spider Day in the United States. March is the perfect month to thank our arachnid friends for all they do for us—especially because they're so often misunderstood. Here, let's allow Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to smooth out the tangled web of spider myths that might have you deceived.

The Debunker: Are You Within Three Feet of a Spider Right Now?

I debunk a lot of weird stuff on this website, but this oft-repeated factoid is a unique kind of a thing even for me: a trivia fact that presumes to know an awful lot about my current situation. Really? I'm three feet from a spider at all times? Even if I'm swimming in a hotel pool? Skydiving from a plane? Trudging across the Antarctica tundra? How does nature guarantee my spider proximity in situations like those?

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Wednesday, March 20

The Debunker: Who Told Spider-Man that "with Great Power Comes Great Responsibility"?

by Ken Jennings

Mathletes probably know that March 14 is celebrated as "Pi Day," because 3/14 is a natural time to salute the decimal approximation of pi, 3.14. But if you're a science nerd who's more into biology than physics, you'll be happy to know that March 14 is also National Save a Spider Day in the United States. March is the perfect month to thank our arachnid friends for all they do for us—especially because they're so often misunderstood. Here, let's allow Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to smooth out the tangled web of spider myths that might have you deceived.

The Debunker: Who Told Spider-Man that "with Great Power Comes Great Responsibility"?

Peter Parker's Uncle Ben is destined to accomplish two important things in the Spider-Man mythos: first, to tell his nephew Peter that "with great power comes great responsibility," and second, to die at the hands of an anonymous gunman. That's about it. Those two acts—and Peter's guilt at not having prevented Uncle Ben's death—are what seal the deal on Spider-Man's future. Peter Parker will now spend his spare time as a selfless, wall-crawling friendly neighborhood super-hero, one who looks out for the little guy and never gives up.

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Wednesday, March 13

The Debunker: Do You Swallow Eight Spiders Every Year While You Sleep?

by Ken Jennings

Mathletes probably know that March 14 is celebrated as "Pi Day," because 3/14 is a natural time to salute the decimal approximation of pi, 3.14. But if you're a science nerd who's more into biology than physics, you'll be happy to know that March 14 is also National Save a Spider Day in the United States. March is the perfect month to thank our arachnid friends for all they do for us—especially because they're so often misunderstood. Here, let's allow Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to smooth out the tangled web of spider myths that might have you deceived.

The Debunker: Do You Swallow Eight Spiders Every Year While You Sleep?

I mean, I guess you could, but you'd have to really want it. They're not going to just wander into your mouth. As University of Washington arachnid expert Rod Crawford says on his museum's website, "No such case is on formal record anywhere in scientific and medical literature," despite people having slept and watched each other sleep for millennia. He points out that this is an urban legend that goes back decades, with a wide variety of phony "statistics" on offer. Sometimes it's a mere four spiders snacked on per year; other times it's given as a full pound eaten in a lifetime.

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Thursday, February 28

The Debunker: Did Pinocchio's Nose Grow Whenever He Lied?

by Ken Jennings

In February, Americans celebrate the birthday of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—not just beloved leaders but famous symbols of truth-telling as well. Washington wouldn't even lie about his child vandalism of cherry trees (even if that story never really happened) and Abraham Lincoln was "Honest Abe," a lifelong symbol of candor and integrity. Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings believes that honesty is the best policy, so he's here all February to tell us the truth about the art of lying. 

The Debunker: Did Pinocchio's Nose Grow Whenever He Lied?

It's probably the one thing everyone knows about Pinocchio: when he tells a lie, his nose grows. Memorably, in the 1940 Walt Disney film, Pinocchio's wooden nose gets so long after a series of lies that it sprouts leaves, branches, and even a bird's nest. Today, novelty stores sell "Pinocchio noses" for Halloween costumes, and even The Washington Post's Fact Checker column rates untruths on a scale of one to four "Pinocchios."

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Wednesday, February 20

The Debunker: Do Lie Detectors Detect Lies?

by Ken Jennings

In February, Americans celebrate the birthday of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—not just beloved leaders but famous symbols of truth-telling as well. Washington wouldn't even lie about his child vandalism of cherry trees (even if that story never really happened) and Abraham Lincoln was "Honest Abe," a lifelong symbol of candor and integrity. Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings believes that honesty is the best policy, so he's here all February to tell us the truth about the art of lying.

The Debunker: Do Lie Detectors Detect Lies?

The story of the modern "lie detector" test began in 1920 with psychologist William Moulton Marston. He theorized that measuring systolic blood pressure could predict a subject's emotional state. Later in life, after a police officer in California had adapted this test into the first polygraph machine, Marston became much more famous for his work in, of all fields, comic books. He created the superhero Wonder Woman for DC Comics, and even gave her a Lasso of Truth. This was a handy accessory that combined Marston's two great loves: lie-detecting, and bondage.

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Tuesday, January 22

The Debunker: Did Nobody Expect the Spanish Inquisition?

by Ken Jennings

On January 16, 1786, Thomas Jefferson's "Statute for Religious Freedom" was enacted into Virginia state law. The new law, which guaranteed freedom of religion to people of all faiths, later became the basis for the Constitution's establishment clause, and was one of the three accomplishments Jefferson felt enough pride in to put on his own tombstone. (He didn't even mention his presidency!) To this day, January 16 is still observed as Religious Freedom Day in the United States, but does that mean everything you think you know about church and state is God's own truth? It does not! Let Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings bless your souls with a little knowledge from on high.

The Debunker: Did Nobody Expect the Spanish Inquisition?

"In the early years of the sixteenth century, to combat the rising tide of religious unorthodoxy, the Pope gave Cardinal Ximenez of Spain leave to move without let or hindrance throughout the land, in a reign of violence, terror, and torture that makes a smashing film. This was the Spanish Inquisition!" Or so begins the beloved 1970 Monty Python sketch about the notorious medieval tribunal, anyway.

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Thursday, January 03

The Debunker: Has the Pledge of Allegiance Always Name-Checked God?

by Ken Jennings

On January 16, 1786, Thomas Jefferson's "Statute for Religious Freedom" was enacted into Virginia state law. The new law, which guaranteed freedom of religion to people of all faiths, later became the basis for the Constitution's establishment clause, and was one of the three accomplishments Jefferson felt enough pride in to put on his own tombstone. (He didn't even mention his presidency!) To this day, January 16 is still observed as Religious Freedom Day in the United States, but does that mean everything you think you know about church and state is God's own truth? It does not! Let Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings bless your souls with a little knowledge from on high.

The Debunker: Has the Pledge of Allegiance Always Name-Checked God?

The Pledge of Allegiance seems like such a deeply ingrained part of America's national myth—right up there with Betsy Ross, the Constitution, and "The Star-Spangled Banner"—that many people are surprised to learn that no American ever had to hear or say it for the first century of the nation's history. It's a surprisingly recent invention, newer than the telephone or the ballpoint pen.

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Wednesday, December 19

The Debunker: Does the Post Office Vow Never to Be Stopped by Snow or Sleet?

by Ken Jennings

It's December, and the weather outside is frightful—unless you're like Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, in which case you look forward all year to the promise of snow. Magical snowscapes, snow angels, snowmen, school cancellations, hilarious skidding cars—what's not to like? As you're walking through your winter wonderland this year, Ken will educate you with a flurry of knowledge to correct all your cold-weather confusion. We've been snowed in by misinformation long enough.

The Debunker: Does the Post Office Vow Never to Be Stopped by Snow or Sleet?

There's an old episode of Cheers where Cliff, the know-it-all letter carrier, stops by the bar during the middle of the afternoon. "Aren't you going to finish your mail route, Mr. Clavin?" asks the confused Woody.

"Are you kidding?" says Cliff. "There's too much snow and sleet out there. Besides, it's getting a little dark."

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Tuesday, December 11

The Debunker: Did Napoleon and Hitler Invade Russia in the Winter?

by Ken Jennings

It's December, and the weather outside is frightful—unless you're like Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, in which case you look forward all year to the promise of snow. Magical snowscapes, snow angels, snowmen, school cancellations, hilarious skidding cars—what's not to like? As you're walking through your winter wonderland this year, Ken will educate you with a flurry of knowledge to correct all your cold-weather confusion. We've been snowed in by misinformation long enough.

The Debunker: Did Napoleon and Hitler Invade Russia in the Winter?

Have you noticed this thing where young internet people are Very Into History, by which I mean they keep retelling the same six military history stories that were on a podcast or something? I'm actually not as annoyed by this as you might think because hey, at least they know six things about history! It's just like the people posting "SCIENCE, F YEAH!" Sure, that's a little dumb, but would you rather they not be into science? At least they're vaccinated.

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Wednesday, December 05

The Debunker: Does It Snow a Lot in Antarctica?

by Ken Jennings

It's December, and the weather outside is frightful—unless you're like Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, in which case you look forward all year to the promise of snow. Magical snowscapes, snow angels, snowmen, school cancellations, hilarious skidding cars—what's not to like? As you're walking through your winter wonderland this year, Ken will educate you with a flurry of knowledge to correct all your cold-weather confusion. We've been snowed in by misinformation long enough.

The Debunker: Does It Snow a Lot in Antarctica?

"Is Antarctica snowy?" sounds like the polar equivalent of "Is the pope Catholic?" (The polar equivalent of "Does a bear poop in the woods?" is, of course, "Does a polar bear poop in the woods?") But the answer isn't as obvious as it sounds.

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