Bonden Festival

At the Bonden (or Bonten) Festival at Yokote in the Akita Prefecture of Japan, each district of the city has a team of young men to carry its bonden in a race to the Asahiokayama-jinja shrine.

The bonden is a ten-foot bamboo pole, draped with heavy cloth and topped by a platform holding a figure of the Animal of the Year. Those carrying the bonden gradually increase their pace until they are running, often pushing members of competing teams to the ground to be the first to the top. The team that arrives first wins the privilege

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Ernie Kovacs (1919)

 

Kovacs was an American comedian. He turned to television after studying acting and writing, and he did much of the performing, writing, and producing for his three series—Time for Ernie, The Ernie Kovacs Show, and Kovacs Unlimited. He utilized the television format imaginatively, employing sight gags and zany improvisations, and showed off his wacky personality in 10 movies before dying prematurely in a car crash.
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The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake

One of the deadliest earthquakes in history struck Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755, killing at least 30,000. The earthquake, followed by a tsunami and raging fires, almost totally destroyed the city, leaving just 15% of its buildings standing.

The study of the quake’s causes led to the beginnings of seismology. Geologists today estimate that the temblor, with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean, approached magnitude 9 on the moment magnitude scale.

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Reformation Day

When Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German monk and religious reformer, nailed his 95 “theses” (or propositions) to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, so many people agreed with his ideas that they spread throughout western Europe and touched off a religious revolt known as the Reformation. As a result, many Christians broke their centuries-old connection with the Roman Catholic Church and established independent churches of their own, prime among them being the Lutheran Church. October 31 is observed by most Protestant denominations as Reformation Day.

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Burning of the USS Philadelphia (1804)

 

The USS Philadelphia was a 36-gun frigate that ran aground in October 1803 while blockading the coast of Tripoli. After some consideration, the Americans decided that the ship was too powerful a weapon to remain in enemy hands and sent a party of soldiers to recapture the ship and burn it. In carrying out “the most bold and daring act of the age,” the assaulting party used what ruse to sail up to the ship without arousing the suspicion of its Tripolitan guards?
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UN General Assembly Adopts Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Drafted by a committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the world’s most translated document. Among its 30 articles are definitions of civil and political rights, as well as definitions of economic, social, and cultural rights—all of which are owed by UN member states to those under their jurisdiction. Since its adoption, it has acquired more juridical status than originally intended and has been widely used, even by national courts, in what ways?
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The Space Elevator

A space elevator is a hypothetical megastructure capable of transporting material from Earth—or another celestial body—into space without the use of rockets. The concept was first conceived by Russian inventor Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895. Many of today’s proposed designs incorporate tensile towers built out of advanced materials like carbon nanotubes, which are very strong and lightweight. By 1978, technology had advanced enough that working space elevators could have been constructed where?

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Automatic Writing

Used as a form of channeling by proponents of Spiritualism and the New Age movement, automatic writing is a writing process that is performed without conscious thought or deliberation, at times, while the writer is in a trancelike state.

Practitioners often attribute the resulting message to aliens, the deceased, the subconscious, or even God. Skeptics note, however, that there is no evidence to support such claims. Which books have allegedly been written using this technique?  …read more

mugwump

Definition: (noun) A person who acts independently or remains neutral, especially in politics.
Synonyms: fencesitter, independent.

Usage: The public relations firm believed that the key to victory was to capture the hearts and minds of the mugwumps who would otherwise remain passive.

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aver

Definition: (verb) To assert formally as a fact.
Synonyms: allege, say.

Usage: For as my conscience does not accuse me, I aver that I am not a criminal.

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wytai

wytai – noun –  a feature of modern society that suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from zoos and milk-drinking to organ transplants, life insurance, and fiction—part of the faint background noise of absurdity that reverberates from the moment our ancestors first crawled out of the slime but could not for the life of them remember what they got up to do.

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retinue

retinue – (noun) – The group following and attending to some important person.
Synonyms: entourage, cortege, suite.

Usage: Guillaume Lejean…reached Karthoum by way of the Red Sea, and embarked upon the Nile with a retinue of twenty-one hired men and twenty soldiers.

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pinnace

Definition: (noun) A light boat propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a tender for merchant and war vessels.
Synonyms: ship’s boat, cutter, tender.

Usage: Seated upon the projection formed by the hull of the pinnace, I inhaled the salt breeze with delight.
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Mechanical Puzzles

These puzzles are comprised of mechanically interlinked pieces that must be manipulated in a certain way in order for them to be assembled, disassembled, and otherwise solved. The oldest known example, from the 3rd century BCE, consists of a square divided into 14 parts that fit together to form other shapes. Mechanical puzzles have since taken on myriad forms, including dexterity and disentanglement puzzles, trick vessels, and impossible objects. What is the most well-known impossible object?
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scathing

scathing – (adjective) – Bitterly denunciatory; harshly critical.
Synonyms: vituperative.

Usage: This scathing remark caused the Prince to hide his face for shame, and Steve to erect his head in the proud consciousness that this shot was not meant for him.

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High-Speed Photography

High-speed photography allows fast moving phenomena to be recorded with precision and clarity. While in 1948 high-speed photography was defined as a set of at least 3 photographs taken by a camera capable of recording a minimum of 128 frames per second, today’s equipment can shoot as many as 1 million frames per second.

High-speed photography was first put to practical use in 1878 to investigate whether or not a trotting horse ever has all 4 feet off the ground at once. What did the images show?
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pestilence

Definition: (noun) A usually fatal epidemic disease, especially bubonic plague.
Synonyms: plague.
Usage: The place might have been desolated by a pestilence, so empty and so lifeless did it now appear. …read more

roster

Definition: (noun) A list, especially of names.

Synonyms: roll.

Usage: The spy’s mission was to compile a roster of officials amenable to bribery.

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quixotic

Definition: (adjective) Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.
Synonyms: wild-eyed, romantic.

Usage: She is ready prey to any man who knows how to play adroitly either on her affectionate ardor or her quixotic enthusiasm.

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Night of the Radishes

Night of the Radishes is a festival dating from the 19th century that combines art, agriculture, and religion. It is held in the zócalo, or main square, in Oaxaca, Mexico. The radishes grow to yam-size here and are each uniquely shaped by growing through the rocky soil. Families harvest these vegetables, and combine and sculpt them into elaborate forms depicting biblical scenes, especially the nativity of Jesus. Historical and Aztec themes are also represented. After the awarding of cash prizes and ribbons, a fireworks display caps the night. Discuss
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unexceptionable

unexceptionable – (adjective) Beyond any reasonable objection; irreproachable.
Synonyms: unimpeachable.
Usage: No person need think of applying for this situation unless he could furnish the most unexceptionable references to character and abilities.

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Molecular Machines

A molecular machine is a minute mechanism consisting of molecular components that perform mechanical-like movements in response to specific stimuli. Chemists have synthesized a number of simple molecular machines, including molecular propellers and molecular motors, the latter of which are powered by light or reactions with other molecules and are capable of unidirectional rotation.

Far more complex biological versions of these artificial nanomachines are found in living cells. What do they do?

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Hugo Marie de Vries (1848)

De Vries was a Dutch botanist whose theory of biological mutation and rediscovery of Mendel’s laws of heredity made possible the active investigation and universal acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He held that new species are formed chiefly through mutations—sudden, unpredictable, inheritable changes in an individual organism. Teaching at the University of Amsterdam, he introduced the experimental study of evolution. What important evolution-related term did he introduce to science? Discuss
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