Frog Mucus Can Fight Off the Flu

With its aches, fevers, and stuffy noses, the flu can be agony. And in addition to being super gross, the many strains of the virus can sometimes prove fatal. But it might be (somewhat) comforting to know that a substance not unlike the snot you’re … Discuss
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Blood Eagle Torture

Referenced in some Norse saga literature, the Blood Eagle is a form of torture and execution performed by cutting the victim’s ribs by the spine, breaking them to resemble blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the gaping wound. Though some cite archaeological evidence of the practice, others argue that it never occurred and that accounts of the method are based on folklore or inaccurate translations. Which Viking Age rulers were reportedly victims of the gruesome torture? Discuss
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Sun Dog Phenomenon Observed over Stockholm (1535)

Today, the science behind parhelia—also known as “sun dogs”—is well understood, but when the huge, glowing halos and miniature suns appeared in the sky above Stockholm in 1535, it was a major event. A painting of the occurrence is the earliest color depiction of Stockholm, then a crowded cluster of stone buildings on an island. It is also the earliest depiction of sun dogs and is largely scientifically accurate. What were some of the conflicting interpretations of the omen at the time? Discuss
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Ernesto Antonio “Tito” Puente, Jr. (1923)

One of the premier composers and players of Latin music, Puente was an American bandleader, pianist, and virtuoso percussionist. He formed his own band in 1947 and rose to prominence with the salsa, mambo, merengue, and cha-cha-cha fads of the 1950s. Always experimenting, he became a pioneer of Latin-jazz fusion and recorded more than 100 albums, winning multiple Grammy awards. His compositions include “Pare Cochero” and “Oye Como Va.” On what TV shows did Puente appear as a guest star? Discuss
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Tin Hau Festival

This birthday festival in Hong Kong celebrates Tin Hau, queen of Heaven and goddess of the sea. Also known as Tien-hou or Matsu, she is revered for her ability to calm the waves and to guarantee bountiful catches, and for her protection from shipwrecks and sickness. The festivities include parades, performances of Chinese opera, and the sailing of hundreds of junks and sampans, decked out with colorful streamers, through Hong Kong’s waterways to the temples. The temple in Joss House Bay is especially known for its festival, which attracts thousands of fisherfolk. Discuss
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The Blue Whale

Perhaps the largest animal to have ever lived, the blue whale can grow to be 100 ft (30.5 m) long and weigh as much as 200 tons. It eats as much as 4 tons of krill a day, and its massive mouth can hold up to 100 tons of food and water, but its throat restricts the passage of anything wider than a beach ball. Once abundant, it was nearly hunted to extinction before being placed under the protection of the international community in 1966. What is the blue whale’s only natural predator? Discuss
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Spider Webs

Many spiders use webs of proteinaceous fibers extruded from silk-spinning organs, called spinnerets, to catch prey without having to expend energy pursuing it. However, constructing a web is an energetically costly process, and it is not uncommon for a spider to eat its own web each day to recoup some of the energy expended in its spinning. A remarkable material, spider silk possesses a tensile strength comparable to that of high-grade steel and has been used in medical settings to do what? Discuss
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Eliot Ness (1903)

Ness was 26 years old when he was hired as a special agent of the US Department of Justice to head its Chicago Prohibition bureau, with the express purpose of breaking up the bootlegging network of Al Capone. He formed a nine-man team of unbribable officers known as “the Untouchables.” Numerous attempts were made on his life, and one of his friends was killed, but he eventually helped take down Capone, who was convicted on tax evasion charges. What did Ness do after Prohibition ended? Discuss
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Cerealia

Ceres was the ancient Roman goddess of grain and of harvests, often identified with the Greek goddess Demeter. The festival known as Cerealia was observed at various locations only by Roman matrons, who, for several days preceding the festival, abstained from wine and other carnal pleasures. People who were in mourning were not allowed to appear at the celebration. For this reason, the Cerealia was not observed after the Battle of Cannae, when 50,000 Roman troops were killed by Hannibal. Discuss
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Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger Is Elected Pope (2005)

Ordained in 1951, the German-born Ratzinger came to be regarded as the most influential person in the Catholic hierarchy after the pope through his high-profile positions within the church and his uncompromising stance on Catholic teachings. He presided over the funeral of Pope John Paul II as dean of the College of Cardinals and, after just two days and four ballots, was elected pope in one of the fastest papal elections in a century. Why did he pray not to be elected during the papal conclave? Discuss
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Zimbabwe Independence Day

Like much of Africa, the area that is now Zimbabwe was long controlled by Europeans. In 1922, the 34,000 European settlers chose to become a self-governing British colony, Southern Rhodesia; in 1923, Southern Rhodesia was annexed by the British Crown. A fight for independence took place in the 1970s. An independent constitution was written for Zimbabwe in London in 1979, and independence followed on April 18, 1980. Independence Day is celebrated in every city and district of the nation with political rallies, parades, traditional dances, singing, and fireworks. Discuss
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US Federal Court Rules to Release Ezra Pound from Mental Hospital (1958)

An influential American poet and literary critic, Pound spent most of his life in Europe. At the end of WWII, he was arrested for treason by the US for making public broadcasts in Italy supporting anti-Semitism and Fascism. Judged insane, he was committed to a hospital in Washington, DC, until Ernest Hemingway and other friends secured his release 12 years later. In the early weeks of his incarceration, he began showing signs of a mental breakdown, possibly as a result of being locked in what? Discuss
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Leprechauns

Leprechauns are mythological male fairies of Irish folklore. They are often described as small, mischievous cobblers who hide crocks of gold in secret locations. According to legend, leprechauns can be captured and compelled to reveal the location of their treasure, but their captors must never look away because doing so allows the elusive creatures to escape. Why do some Irish people consider the modern, popularized image of leprechauns offensive? Discuss
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Leopold Anthony Stokowski (1882)

Stokowski was a legendary British-American conductor whose strong advocacy of new music helped to broaden American musical taste. He conducted and toured with the Philadelphia Orchestra for more than two decades, transforming it into a world-class ensemble and creating the lush “Philadelphia sound.” He made three films, including Walt Disney’s Fantasia, in which he also appeared. What made the “Philadelphia sound” so unique? Discuss
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Last French Troops Leave Syria (1946)

Though France proclaimed Syria an independent republic in 1941, its troops were not withdrawn until 1946, after over 25 years of occupation. The occupation began in 1920, when the League of Nations gave the French a mandate over the Levant States—roughly present-day Syria and Lebanon. Within years, the Syrian resistance to French colonial rule became a full-scale revolt. A 1936 treaty promised Syrian independence, but it did not come to fruition. What finally brought about the occupation’s end? Discuss
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Boston Marathon

The oldest footrace in the United States was first held on Patriots’ Day, April 19, 1897. Organized by members of the Boston Athletic Association, the race involved only 15 runners. Nowadays the Boston Marathon draws anywhere from 7,000 to more than 9,000 official starters. The 26.2-mile course begins exactly at noon in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, includes the infamous “Heartbreak Hill” (a section of Commonwealth Avenue in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, that marks the race’s 21st mile), and ends near Copley Square in the Back Bay Area. Discuss
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Artur Schnabel (1882)

Schnabel was an Austrian-American pianist best known for his interpretations of Beethoven’s piano works. Based in Berlin from 1900 to 1933, he composed, taught, and gave legendary performances of the complete sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert for centenary celebrations. In the 1930s, he became the first to record the complete Beethoven cycle. During the Nazi period, he moved to London, then to the US. Though his own compositions are less known, they are revered by serious pianists. Why? Discuss
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The Virginia Tech Massacre (2007)

The Virginia Tech massacre was the deadliest peacetime shooting episode in US history by a single gunman. Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator, had a long history of mental illness when he enrolled at Virginia Tech University and was, in 2005, declared mentally ill by a Virginia court and ordered to seek treatment. Sixteen months later, Cho, in two separate attacks hours apart, shot and killed 32 people at the university and then himself. What did he do in the time between the two shooting sprees? Discuss
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The Imperial Camel Corps

The Imperial Camel Corps was a brigade-sized military formation that fought for the Allies in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. After being evacuated to Egypt following the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign, Allied troops looking to suppress a tribal rebellion in the west formed four companies of camel-mounted infantry. The units were so successful that 14 more camel companies were eventually formed. What advantages did the camel companies have over horse-mounted cavalry units? Discuss
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Mercier “Merce” Philip Cunningham (1919)

Cunningham was an American modern dancer and choreographer. He studied with Martha Graham, presented his first work in 1942, and formed his own company in 1953. His innovative dances were set to the music of avant-garde composers, including his longtime partner, John Cage. He was known for collaborating with contemporary artists, including Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, who created sets and costumes for him. In 2003, his Split Sides featured music by what two experimental rock bands? Discuss
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