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
Playing the video game “Tetris” shortly after a traumatic event, such as a car crash, may reduce the risk of developing intrusive flashbacks of the event, a new study suggests. Researchers found that car crash survivors who played “Tetris” in the … Discuss …read more
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
The Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the world. Founded by Father Michael McGivney on the principles of charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism, the organization’s primary purpose was to provide financial aid to members and their families in the event of illness or death. The Knights of Columbus has since donated billions to charity and now has more than 1.8 million members. What personal tragedy led McGivney to found the organization? Discuss …read more
Capriati’s family moved to Florida when she was four years old so she could pursue a tennis career, and by 1990, the 14-year-old had earned over $6 million in endorsements. She became the youngest women’s tennis player to win a match at Wimbledon, to reach the semifinals in a Grand Slam event, and to rank in the top ten players. Personal problems—including an arrest—sidelined her as a teen, but she made a successful comeback in her 20s before injuries ended her career. Why was she arrested? Discuss …read more
The term handedness refers to the habitual or more skillful use of one hand as opposed to the other. Approximately 90% of people are right-hand dominant, and a number of biological, sociological, and environmental theories have been proposed to explain the trend. In 2007, researchers discovered the LRRTM1 gene, the first gene linked to an increased likelihood of left-handedness. Many cultures have associated “lefties” with evil or bad luck. What is one advantage associated with left-handedness? Discuss …read more
In the Central African Republic, Boganda Day marks the anniversary of the death of Barthélémy Boganda, the nation’s first prime minister, who died in a plane crash on March 29, 1959. Boganda had been a driving force in the creation of the Central African Republic, which became a self-governing republic in 1958. He was also a leader in the movement to unite black African nations. Boganda Day is a national holiday in the Central African Republic; all banks, official government offices, businesses, and schools are closed. Discuss …read more
Named after Zeus, the supreme god of Greek mythology, Zeidae are a family of large, showy fish found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. Members of the Zeidae family have fairly discoid, laterally-compressed bodies with massive jaws, large eyes, and a conspicuous, crest-shaped dorsal fin containing up to 10 spines. Typically found close to the sea bottom, these edible fish are primarily caught via deep-sea trawling. How do they reproduce? Discuss …read more
In 1920, meteorologists did not have modern forecasting equipment, and there was no storm warning system in place in the US. Thus, when an outbreak of storms began near dawn on March 28, 1920, few were prepared for the devastation that followed. Some 400 people were killed and more than 1,200 injured that day by at least 38 recorded tornadoes in the deep South and the Midwest. Why is it likely that both the total number of tornadoes as well as the actual death toll were underreported? Discuss …read more
The first dinosaurs may have originated in the Northern Hemisphere, possibly in an area that is now Britain. This is one of the conclusions of the first detailed re-evaluation of the relationships between dinosaurs for 130 years. It shows that the … Discuss …read more
Abandoned by his parents as a baby and raised by a British aunt whose last name he took, Bartholomew was a successful child actor in Hollywood during the 1930s. He appeared in such films as Little Lord Fauntleroy, Captains Courageous, and David Copperfield, which propelled him to fame at the age of 10. After he became successful, his biological parents launched a protracted and expensive court battle to regain custody of the child star that lasted for how long? Discuss …read more
The people of Bali in Indonesia celebrate the Vernal Equinox and the New Year by driving the devils out of the villages and then observing a day of stillness, known as Nyepi or Njepi. It is believed that when spring arrives and the rainy season ends, the Lord of Hell, Yama, sweeps the devils out of Hades. The devils then fall on Bali, making it necessary to purify the entire island. The following day, Nyepi, marks the start of the New Year and the arrival of spring. It is observed with the suspension of all activity: no …read more
Definition: (noun) An object worn, especially around the neck, as a charm against evil or injury.
Usage: It was sorcery, magic of the worst kind, thought Buldeo, and he wondered whether the amulet round his neck would protect him. Discuss …read more
For the first time in birds, researchers say they have found evidence that a New Zealand parrot has the avian equivalent of an infectious laugh. They call it “positive emotional contagion” — which they define as “outwardly emotional actions that … Discuss …read more
The Reading Terminal complex is located in the Market East section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Completed in 1893, the complex houses a massive trainshed as well as a flourishing market that continues to do business today. At the time of its construction, the terminal’s single-span arched-roof trainshed was one of the largest in the world. Now the world’s oldest structure of its kind, the trainshed has been declared a National Historic Landmark. What is now housed in the trainshed? Discuss …read more
With a magnitude of 9.2, the earthquake that struck east of Anchorage at rush hour on Good Friday 1964 was one of the strongest ever recorded. About 130 people died, most in the subsequent tsunami, and much of downtown Anchorage was destroyed. The quake’s effects were felt around the world—boats were sunk as far away as the Gulf of Mexico. Within a day, 11 aftershocks measuring 6.0 or higher were reported. In the months after, residents endured thousands of smaller ones. How long did they last? Discuss …read more
Definition: (noun) A person with expert knowledge or training, especially in the fine arts.
Usage: I brought the painting to the world’s best art connoisseurs, and they all agreed that it was an authentic Picasso and would fetch millions at auction. Discuss …read more
Aerial exploration of the arid tableland surrounding Peru’s Palpa valley has revealed a remarkable network of geometric and zoomorphic forms etched in the desert floor. Created by the Nazca, a pre-Incan civilization that flourished from about 200 BCE to about 600 CE, the Nazca Lines span about 200 sq mi (500 sq km). The glyphs are only recognizable as coherent figures from the air, but the Nazca never possessed the technology to view them from that vantage point. Why, then, did they create them? Discuss …read more
Until 1839, the little town of Henley-on-Thames was known primarily as a glass-producing port town. During a town hall meeting that year, Captain Edmund Gardiner proposed holding a regatta, since the growing popularity of rowing could benefit the town. Today, the rowing competition is a world-class competition that draws oarsmen from around the world for five days each summer, with thousands of spectators taking part in its traditions. How did it officially become a “royal” regatta in 1851? Discuss …read more