Amazons

The Amazons are a mythical nation of female warriors whose place in Greek mythology may have been inspired by Sarmatian warrior women who, according to ancient historians, went to battle alongside their men. Archaeological evidence seems to confirm this theory; a quarter of the Sarmatian military graves that have been discovered belong to women, many of whom were buried with bows. What extreme form of body modification were Amazons rumored to practice in order to improve their marksmanship? Discuss
…read more

phellem

Definition: (noun) Outer tissue of bark; a protective layer of dead cells.
Synonyms: cork.
Usage: Joe carefully harvested the phellem from the tree, excited at the prospect of using the buoyant material to make his very own toy boat.
Discuss …read more

World Trade Center Opens in New York City (1973)

With seven buildings and a shopping concourse, the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan was the largest commercial complex in the world before it was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its most prominent structures were the 110-story rectangular Twin Towers, which, at more than 1,360 ft (415 m) tall, were the tallest buildings in the world until the Sears Tower surpassed them in 1974. How did the construction of the complex lead to the expansion of the island of Manhattan? Discuss
…read more

The Great Fire of Rome

According to the historian Tacitus, the Great Fire of Rome started in the shops around the Circus Maximus on July 18 in 64 CE and burned for 5 days. In his account, Tacitus writes that the fire completely destroyed 4 and severely damaged 7 of the 14 Roman districts. Both the size and cause of the fire are debated as well as Emperor Nero’s response to the crisis. Some claim he sang or played music while the city burned, and many accused Nero of arson. Nero, in turn, blamed what religious group? Discuss
…read more

Megalesia

The cult of the Phrygian goddess Cybele (also known as Magna Mater) was established in Rome on this day in 204 BCE, and April 4 continued to be set aside as a commemoration of the foreign goddess’ arrival in Rome. In the beginning, no Roman citizens were allowed to take part in it. But over time it spread to the streets of Rome, where Cybele’s image was carried in a chariot drawn by lions with her castrated priests leaping and gashing themselves in a frenzy of devotion. The procession went from the Palatine to the Circus, where …read more

McKinley Morganfield, AKA Muddy Waters (1913)

As a teenager in Mississippi, Waters played traditional country blues, but after settling in Chicago in the 1940s, he switched to a more urban style with amplified instruments. He soon became known for his driving slide guitar technique and darkly expressive vocal style. From the 1950s on, Waters recorded, toured, and played various music festivals. His electric blues influenced myriad musicians, including Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. What world-famous band took its name from one of his songs? Discuss
…read more

sternutation

Definition: (noun) A symptom consisting of the involuntary expulsion of air from the nose.
Synonyms: sneeze, sneezing.
Usage: John complained that every time he came to visit, my dusty carpet would send him into fits of sternutation.
Discuss …read more

Oscar Wilde’s Libel Case Begins (1895)

When the marquess of Queensbury became convinced that his son, Alfred Douglas, was having an affair with Wilde, he began to rail against the author and playwright, publicly accusing Wilde of sodomy, a crime at the time. At Douglas’s urging, Wilde sued the marquess for libel. He not only lost the case, but was in turn charged with homosexual offenses and arrested. Wilde was convicted in an internationally notorious trial and served two years hard labor. What did he write while in prison? Discuss
…read more

Henry Robinson Luce (1898)

One of the most powerful—and controversial—figures in the history of US journalism, Luce founded Time magazine in 1923 with former Yale classmate Briton Hadden. It was the first news-weekly in the US and is now the largest. Luce went on to launch a number of other highly successful magazines, including Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated. What was the estimated value of his share of Time stock at the time of his death? Discuss
…read more

Geisha

American soldiers returning home after WWII brought with them many misconceptions about traditional Japanese geisha culture, including the now widespread Western belief that geisha are prostitutes. In fact, geisha are highly-trained entertainers who are skilled in the arts of singing, dancing, conversing, and playing traditional instruments. Geisha are known for their recognizable white makeup, elaborate dress, and complex hairstyles. How must geisha sleep in order to protect these hairdos? Discuss
…read more

appurtenance

Definition: (noun) Equipment, such as clothing, tools, or instruments, used for a specific purpose or task.
Synonyms: paraphernalia, gear.
Usage: He had half expected that she would drive up to the side door in a hansom, would wear a thick veil, and adopt the other appurtenances of a clandestine meeting.
Discuss …read more

International Children’s Book Day

This day, which is observed by countries all over the world, is held on Hans Christian Andersen‘s birthday, April 2, because the Danish author’s stories have been favorites among children of all nationalities. Celebrations include contests in which children illustrate their favorite books. Every two years the International Board on Books for Young People sponsors the Hans Christian Andersen medals, which are awarded to a children’s book author and a children’s book illustrator for their contributions to children’s literature. Discuss
…read more

Deadly Nightshade

Although deadly nightshade, a perennial herbaceous plant that has bell-shaped flowers and shiny black berries, is related to potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants, it is one of the most toxic plants found in the Western Hemisphere. It contains alkaloids that can cause tachycardia, hallucinations, blurred vision, and, in extreme cases, death. Also known as belladonna, meaning “beautiful lady” in Italian, the plant was once used cosmetically by women to enhance the appearance of what feature? Discuss
…read more

As the World Turns Premieres (1956)

Soap operas began in the early 1930s as 15-minute radio episodes and continued in that format when they began appearing on TV in the early 1950s. As the World Turns premiered as the first half-hour TV soap. The show, which primarily focused on two professional families in the fictional town of Oakdale, Illinois, ran for 54 years and aired nearly 14,000 episodes. For 20 of those years, it was most-watched daytime drama in the US. What interrupted a live broadcast of the show in 1963? Discuss
…read more

Lon Chaney (1883)

Chaney was an American silent-film actor. Born to parents who were both deaf and mute, he learned to express himself through pantomime at an early age. He moved to Hollywood in 1912 and became one of the biggest stars of the time, appearing in more than 150 silent films. Known as “the man of a thousand faces,” he masterfully used makeup to play tortured, grotesque characters in horror films such as The Phantom of the Opera. How did fake snow made of corn flakes contribute to his death? Discuss
…read more

Cockroaches

Though cockroaches are insects commonly associated with human dwellings, only about 20 of the 3,500 known species are suited to thrive in the typical home. Once a home is infested, however, it is extremely difficult to eradicate the pest. One of the world’s hardiest insects, the cockroach can live without food for up to a month and without breathing for up to 45 minutes. Even decapitation does not immediately kill the bugs. Experts believe cockroaches could even survive what cataclysmic event? Discuss
…read more

April Fools’ Day

There are many names for this day, just as there are many practical jokes to play on the unsuspecting. The simplest pranks usually involve children who, for example, tell each other that their shoelaces are undone and then cry “April Fool!” when the victims glance at their feet. Sometimes the media broadcast fictitious news items; British television, for example, once showed Italian farmers “harvesting” spaghetti from trees. The French call it Fooling the April Fish Day (the fool being the poisson d’avril) and try to pin a paper fish on someone’s back without getting caught. Discuss<br …read more

UNIVAC Computer Delivered to the US Census Bureau (1951)

By 1870, the US population was so large that hand-counting the census was no longer feasible. Despite the invention of a counting machine, by the time the 1880 census was tabulated, it was almost 1890. Dealing with so much data remained a problem until the late 1940s, when the Census Bureau commissioned the first civilian computer. In 1951, it was used to count part of the 1950 census and was so successful that the bureau bought another. What presidential election did UNIVAC correctly predict? Discuss
…read more

Masamune Okazaki

Widely recognized as Japan’s greatest swordsmith, Masamune is thought to have forged most of his swords in the 14th c, but because no exact dates are known for his birth or death, he has attained an almost legendary status. With a reputation for superior beauty and quality—remarkable at a time when the steel used in sword making was often impure—his swords are often referred to by the name of their maker, much like famous works of art. What is the best known Masamune, and where is it today? Discuss
…read more

Jack Johnson (1878)

The son of two ex-slaves, Johnson was the world’s first African-American heavyweight champion. At the height of his career, Johnson was excoriated by the press for having twice married white women, and he offended white supremacists by defeating former champion James J. Jeffries, the “Great White Hope.” In 1912, Johnson was convicted under the Mann Act for transporting his wife-to-be across state lines. Sentenced to a year in prison, he fled the country. What happened when he returned? Discuss
…read more

First Monday Trade Days

The First Monday Trade Days are a trading bazaar that each month brings 100-300,000 people to the small town of Canton, Texas. This legendary affair in northern Texas has its origins in the 1850s when the circuit court judge came to Canton on the first Monday of the month to conduct court proceedings. Farmers from the area would gather to sell or trade horses, conduct other business in town, and watch the occasional hanging. Now the flea market starts on Thursday and runs through the weekend before the first Monday, offering merchandise and food at more than …read more

baccarat

Definition: (noun) A card game in which the winner is the player who holds two or three cards totaling closest to nine.
Synonyms: chemin de fer.
Usage: Because baccarat attracts wealthy players who place enormous bets, a casino can win or lose millions of dollars a night on the game.
Discuss …read more

Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs Signed (1961)

In 1961, representatives from 73 nations met at United Nations headquarters to draft an international treaty to fight the production, trade, and use of illegal drugs. Their comprehensive convention replaced a prior patchwork of treaties and was entered into force in 1964. It was amended in 1972 and now has more than 180 signatories. Despite its sweeping breadth, the document contains a significant ambiguity that has been interpreted differently by various nations. What is it? Discuss
…read more

Eric Patrick Clapton (1945)

Considered to be one of the greatest guitar players of all time, Clapton took up the instrument as a teen and went on to play in a succession of critically acclaimed blues and rock bands, such as the Yardbirds, the Bluesbreakers, and Cream. He is the recipient of 17 Grammy awards and is a three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the early 70s, he spent several years in seclusion battling a heroin addiction. What famous rock guitarist helped launch Clapton’s comeback? Discuss
…read more

Proteus

Proteus is an early sea-god of Greek mythology, an old man whose responsibilities include tending to Poseidon’s seals. Though he is said to have the gift of prophecy, Proteus goes to go to great lengths to avoid disclosing this knowledge and only does so if trapped. A shape-shifter, he evades capture by changing his appearance. For this reason, the adjective “protean”—meaning “versatile” or “capable of assuming many forms”—is derived from his name. Who captures Proteus in Homer’s Odyssey? Discuss
…read more

Ganguar

Gangaur is one of the highlights of the festival year in the state of Rajasthan, India. It is observed in celebration of Gauri, another name for Parvati, Shiva’s wife. This is largely a girls’ and women’s festival, but boys and men get to enjoy the elaborate processions that take place in cities around the state, such as Jaipur. The festival continues for 18 days, during which women fast, dress in their best clothes, adorn themselves with intricate henna designs, and pray. The festival culminates with feasting and processions of the goddess’s image that celebrate the union of …read more