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

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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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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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

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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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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Birthday of Kim Jong-Il

The birth date of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (February 16, 1941-December 17, 2011) is marked with a two-day public holiday observed throughout the country. Large-scale public celebrations—including mass gymnastics displays, musical performances, fireworks, and military demonstrations—are centered in the capital city of Pyongyang. Special horticultural exhibitions feature the Kimjongilia, a flower cultivated to bloom around Kim’s birthday. The government also often marks his birthday by allotting North Koreans extra food or electricity. Discuss
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The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

Michel was a German woman who died in 1976 while undergoing exorcism treatments for demonic possession. She began suffering from seizures and depression when she was 16, the symptoms of which were not eased by conventional medical treatment. Convinced her condition was the result of demonic possession, Michel began a series of hour-long exorcism sessions that lasted nearly a year and ended with her death. Why were her parents and the priests who performed the exorcisms convicted of manslaughter? Discuss
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Susan Brownell Anthony (1820)

Anthony was a pioneer in the US women’s suffrage movement. The daughter of an abolitionist, she was well-educated and campaigned tirelessly for abolition and suffrage, attempting to secure laws to protect women’s rights. In 1869, she and fellow suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. She helped edit a history of the movement and purchased copies for American and European universities. In 1872, she was arrested days after doing what? Discuss
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Lupercalia

This was an ancient Roman festival during which worshippers gathered at a grotto on the Palatine Hill in Rome called the Lupercal. The sacrifice of goats and dogs to the Roman deities Lupercus and Faunus was part of the ceremony. Luperci (priests of Lupercus) dressed in goatskins and, smeared with the sacrificial blood, would run about striking women with thongs of goat skin. This was thought to assure them of fertility and an easy delivery. The name for these thongs—februa—meant “means of purification” and eventually gave the month of February its name. Discuss
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Decimal Day (1971)

Financial calculations using the old currency of the UK were complicated, as one pound was made up of 240 pence or 20 shillings, a shilling was equal to 12 pence, and the half-crown was worth two shillings and sixpence. After considering decimalization for over a century, Parliament passed the Decimal Currency Act in 1969. The pound was to be divided into 100 “new pence,” and a massive publicity campaign was launched in the weeks leading up to Decimal Day. How did people react to the change? Discuss
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Zzyzx: English’s Last Word

Zzyzx is a settlement in San Bernardino County, California. The name was given to the area in 1944 by American radio evangelist Curtis Howe Springer, who claimed it was the last word in the English language. He established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa on the plot, which was actually federal land that he had not received permission to use. In 1974, he was arrested for misusing the land, and the government seized the property. Who oversees the area today? Discuss
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Renée Fleming (1959)

Fleming is an American soprano who specializes in opera and lieder, a type of German art song intended for soloists. The daughter of two music teachers, Fleming graduated from SUNY Potsdam in 1981 with a degree in music education and went on to study at Eastman School of Music and Juilliard. Her professional debut was in Austria in 1986. She has won numerous awards for her roles in opera and for the classical music she has recorded. What did Fleming do to pay for her studies at Juilliard? Discuss
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Israeli Knesset Convenes for the First Time (1949)

In 1948, following a failed attempt by the UN to divide Palestine, which had been under British mandate, the nation of Israel proclaimed its independence. The first legislative assembly, or Knesset, convened in February 1949 and succeeded the Assembly of Representatives that had functioned as the Jewish community’s parliament during the Mandate era. The prime minister and the president are responsible to the Knesset, whose members are elected by popular vote. What does “knesset” mean in Hebrew? Discuss
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Birthday of Richard Allen

The son of two slaves, Richard Allen (1760-1831) was born in Philadelphia on this day. By the time he was 26 years old, he had saved enough money to buy his way out of slavery, and soon after that he established America’s first African-American church. Allen’s work among African Americans expanded at such a rapid rate that in 1816 he had to expand the organization of his church nationwide. Members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church commemorate the birth of their founder and first bishop on this day. Discuss
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conversant

Definition: (adjective) Well informed about or knowing thoroughly.
Synonyms: familiar.
Usage: A few words, in explanation, will here be necessary for such of our readers as are not conversant with the details of aerostation.
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William and Mary Proclaimed Co-Rulers of England (1689)

King William III and Queen Mary II were joint monarchs of England. Married in 1677, they were called to the throne by Parliament after King James II—Mary’s father—fled the country during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. To end the revolution, William and Mary signed the English Bill of Rights, which barred any future Catholic succession to the throne and began a new cooperation between Parliament and monarchs, leading to greater democracy. What effect did this have on the colonies in America? Discuss
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Parentalia

This was an ancient Roman festival held in honor of the manes, or souls of the dead—in particular, deceased relatives. It began a season for remembering the dead, which ended with the Feralia on February 21. This week was a quiet, serious occasion, without the rowdiness that characterized other Roman festivals. Everything, including the temples, closed down, and people decorated graves with flowers and left food—sometimes elaborate banquets—in the cemeteries in the belief that it would be eaten by the spirits of the deceased. Discuss
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Grant Wood (1891)

Wood was an American artist famous for painting scenes from the rural Midwest that feature austere people and stylized landscapes. Born in Iowa, Wood traveled to Europe in the 1920s and was exposed to the late medieval primitive painting style that would later influence his own art. One of the best-known icons of American art, his American Gothic features a stern Midwestern farmer holding a pitchfork and a woman who is often assumed to be the farmer’s wife but is not. Who is she? Discuss
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Gaston Planté

In 1859, French physicist Gaston Planté invented the lead acid battery, the world’s first rechargeable electric battery and the forerunner of the modern automobile battery. His early model consisted of two sheets of coiled lead soaked in sulfuric acid, but he soon revised this design, and just a year later, he presented a nine-cell version to the Academy of Sciences. What mechanical device did Planté invent as part of his investigation into the differences between static and dynamic electricity? Discuss
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