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829839.  Fri Jul 08, 2011 10:25 am Reply with quote

On the subject of tube trips quicker by foot, there are a couple similar in Berlin. One of my favourite sights when I lived there was seeing people waiting five minutes at Bismarckstraße for a train to take them to Deutsche Oper, a total distance of about 300 metres.

Once I was standing at the corner of Breitscheidplatz and Kurfürstendamm, just outside the entrance to Kurfürstendamm station, and a woman asked me if she could get to Zoologischer Garten from there by U-Bahn (don't worry, this will all make sense). I said she could, but it would be quicker to walk, and pointed to Zoologischer Garten station pretty much just past the other side of the square. She thanked me, but insisted she wanted to take the train. From where we were standing, this involved descending one flight of stairs, walking the entire length of one platform, descending another flight of stairs, waiting for a train, travelling one stop, getting off the train, and then walking the entire length of another platform and up two flights of stairs.

830770.  Tue Jul 12, 2011 1:38 am Reply with quote

On the subject of interestingly-named Catholic clergy, how could you leave out the splendidly-named Cardinal Sin?

834122.  Sun Jul 24, 2011 5:35 am Reply with quote

Lots of people have pointed out that John Smith was not married to Pocohontas, but may I additionally point out that whether or not John Smith was the first European to use the word "awning" is unknown. The first recorded use of it that we have so far found was by Smith, but since the origin of the word is unknown, we don't know where he got the word from.

Similarly, if I may give vent to a personal bugbear, Shakespeare almost certainly didn't coin all those words he is supposed to have coined. He may or may not have been the first to write them down (we don't even know that, since very little of what was written in those days survives), but it's unlikely that he peppered his plays with words his audiences weren't already familiar with.

839195.  Thu Aug 18, 2011 6:16 am Reply with quote

Shakespeare coined the name Jessica.

The names Juliet*, Miranda & Olivia were all coined by Shakespeare (via @langers101 @LaReyneDEpee & @SianAitken)

Shakespeare invented the word 'bedroom' - in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1590) (via @FatzBurger)

*The claim for Juliet was later retracted.

Sources? I don't doubt that Shakespeare used these words, or that we don't have evidence of earlier usage, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. What have you got to back up the claim that he invented them?

839204.  Thu Aug 18, 2011 7:03 am Reply with quote

Jessica is first recorded in that form in English in The Merchant of Venice, but whether that counts as 'inventing' a name, I'm not so sure. There are those who would claim that it's derived from 'Jeska', the English form of the Biblical name Iscah, niece of Abraham.

840341.  Wed Aug 24, 2011 6:55 am Reply with quote

"Romans would drop toast into their wine to make the wine taste better. Hence, today, we 'drink a toast'."

It probably wasn't the Romans, but much, much later, in Britain, when spiced toast was used to flavour drinks. But nobody knows for sure.

844796.  Fri Sep 09, 2011 2:29 pm Reply with quote

Here are the answers to tonight's #QIXXL on Twitter, to see all the brilliant answers, check our timeline.

What are the benefits of membership of the Association of dead people?

The members of the Association of Dead People are biologically alive. But bureaucratically, they are dead. Each has fallen victim to paperwork, and are legally dead. In 1975 an Indian man called Lal Bihari discovered that he had been declared dead by his uncle, who had bribed to get a death certificate for him. When Lal found out about his own death, he launched a campaign to return to life. In order to embarrass or confuse India’s officials he did his very best to get arrested, tried to stand for Parliament, wrote pamphlets, held his own funeral, demanded that his wife should be granted a widow’s pension, and added the word ‘dead’ to his name, becoming ‘Lal Bihari The Dead’. It took 19 years, from 1975 to 1994, for him to prove that he was alive. He encourages others to do the same and helps organise protests by the legally dead – often in skeleton costumes.

How many married Catholic priests are there in the UK?

The Catholic Trust estimate that there are around 150 married, former Anglican clergy ordained as Catholic priests in England and Wales, which constitutes just over 3% of the overall active Catholic clergy in England and Wales. There are thought to be 10 popes (including St Peter) who were married, most with children.

How many portions of fruit and veg should you eat each day?

Although in Britain we’re told to eat five a day, that’s a pretty low estimate which was picked more because it was thought attainable than for strictly nutritional reasons. Denmark says six, France ten, and in Canada it’s between five and ten. Nationally, we’re lagging well behind. Spain recommends five too, but a British ‘portion’ of vegetables is about half the size of a Spanish one.

847243.  Fri Sep 16, 2011 1:21 pm Reply with quote

What can you tell me about the busiest flight of all time?

Operation Solomon was a 1991 covert Israeli military operation to take Ethiopian Jews facing an uncertain political future to Israel. It set an aviation record for the largest single-flight passenger load. Regular 747s usually carry around 400 passengers but planners had ripped out the seats and expected to carry 760. On May 24th because the passengers were so light, 1,087 were counted on an El Al 747 yet when it landed, 1,122 were counted off. Dozens of children had hidden in their mothers’ robes, and two were born in flight. In all, in the 36-hour operation of non-stop flights involving 34 Israeli aircraft, 14,325 Ethiopian were brought to Israel.

Why should women with breast implants not travel on planes?
Despite persistent urban myths no woman has ever suffered the pain and indignity of having her breast implants explode mid-flight. Indeed there is no danger of this ever happening due to altitude or low air pressure. The American TV show Mythbusters tested implants in a hyperbaric chamber and found that implants expanded to a negligible degree at 35,000 feet, an altitude at which no human would be able to survive. The same would be true for inflatable bras.

Where is the world's longest mountain range?

The Mid-Oceanic Ridge is by a long way the world's longest mountain range. It’s an enormous system of underwater mountains stretching in an unbroken line from the Arctic, through the Atlantic to the Antarctic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. It's about 40,000 miles long - far, far longer than the Andes, which come in at a piffling 4,300 miles. It was only discovered in the 1950s and a huge amount of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic activity happen along the mountain range. Until 1855 nobody knew that there were any mountains under the sea.

849455.  Fri Sep 23, 2011 11:38 am Reply with quote

Here are tonight's #QIXXL answers:

What is an isogloss?

An “isogloss” is the geographical boundary of a linguistic feature (just as an “isobar” is a line which separates areas of different atmospheric pressure).

The most prominent isogloss in England divides “northern” from “southern” accents and is called “the foot-strut” split: to the south, the words “put” and “putt” are pronounced differently (as in “foot” and “strut”), but in the north they’re homophones. The “trap-bath” split is also characteristic of southern accents; until the C17th the “a” in “bath” was pronounced as in “trap” all over England – pronouncing “bath” so as to rhyme with “half” was stigmatized as “cockney” up to the early C19th. There are many other such splits (eg “bad” and “lad” don’t quite rhyme if you’re an Australian).

In England most isoglosses run east-west (ie dividing north from south); an exception which runs north-south is the “rhotic” isogloss: rhotic speakers (to the west) pronounce the “r” in words like “hard”; to non-rhotics, “pawn” and “porn” are homophones, as are “talk” and “torque”. It is suggested that this isogloss follows the line which divided the Danelaw from Anglo-Saxon England.

What's the newest thing in Liverpool Land?

Liverpool Land is a peninsula on the east coast of Greenland, and is home to the World’s newest island. Several miles long, this substantial W-shaped outcrop of high peaks and rugged slopes, which was previously thought to be the tip of a peninsula, has been revealed by the melting of the glacier to be an island which is now nearly half a mile offshore. The change was discovered in 2005 by explorer Dennis Schmitt, who named the island Uunartoq Qeqertoq (“Warming Island” in Inuit). Satellite photos taken since 1985 have confirmed his findings, though climate change sceptics argue that it may have been an island before 1985, a time for which there is no photographic evidence.

What's the most amusing/Quite Interesting way to lock your dad out of his car?

You can disable most key fobs simply by pressing the ‘open’ button more than 256 times. Key fobs use a hopping code which changes each time the fob is used, according to a pseudo-random number generator (this stops thieves recording your code for later use – if they retry later, your car will have changed the code). Both car and key have the same generator, so they are in tune – each time you use the key, both random number generators click forward to the next one. If you accidentally sit on your key fob when out of range of the car, the two will be out of synch. But the car generator is clever and if it doesn’t get the right code, it checks the next one in sequence – and if necessary the next 256 possible valid codes. However, if your child has maliciously pressed the button 257 times then you have to retune your key.

Name the world's most popular fruit?

The mango is the World’s most popular fruit, outselling bananas by a margin of 3 to 1 and apples by 10 to 1. It is a staple in India (which produces, and consumes, nearly ½ of the total world crop), and in South Asia, China, and Latin America. Most mangoes sold in the UK are a variety called “Tommy Atkins”.

849464.  Fri Sep 23, 2011 12:07 pm Reply with quote

eggshaped wrote:
What is an isogloss?

I thought it was a misstype and was supposed to be Isinglass which is something completely different and might put you off your drink :)

849508.  Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:02 pm Reply with quote

CB27 wrote:
I thought it was a misstype and was supposed to be Isinglass which is something completely different and might put you off your drink :)

Which, in its turn, should not be confused with an Ising spin glass, as that's a model system of interacting random spins that quantum physicists like to do calculations on.

849814.  Sat Sep 24, 2011 3:13 pm Reply with quote

Hiya, happydisciple! Welcome on board.

851489.  Fri Sep 30, 2011 10:52 am Reply with quote

Hello everyone! Here are tonight's #QIXXL answers. Anyone joining us from Twitter, very well played.

What kind of game show are pigeons better at than humans?

The Monty Hall Problem, based on the game show 'Let's Make A Deal', is as follows: “Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1 [but the door is not opened], and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?”

The intuitive response is that it's a 50/50 call, but that's wrong. The correct strategy is to choose whichever door you didn't choose the first time. The reason is: If you had originally chosen right (one third of the time) the host's actions tell you nothing. If you choose wrong (which is most of the time) the host removes the remaining booby prize, meaning that by swapping you are guaranteed to get the nice surprise. So one-third of the time it makes no difference whether you change or not, but two-thirds of the time changing will give you the prize.

Pigeons are quite good at the game; getting it correct 36% of the time to begin with, but 96 percent of the time on day 30, once they get used to the results. In one study of the problem, only in the youngest group tested — a bunch of 8th graders — did a significant fraction of students figure out switching was the best strategy. Given the same training as the pigeons: humans generally fail to adopt the optimal strategy.

How did the man who invented cribbage make his money?

The game of cribbage is based on a much older game called “noddy” that dates back to Tudor times, but in its current format, its invention is generally ascribed to the poet Sir John Suckling (1609–1642). Suckling, best known for his poem "Ballad Upon a Wedding,” was something of a scoundrel, described as "the greatest gallant of his time, the greatest gamester both for bowling and cards, so that no shopkeeper would trust him for sixpence". He was an expert at cards, dice and bowls as well as being a womaniser and notorious wit. His fortune was made by creating beautifully ornate cards and giving them to the rich. Having made friends thanks to this gift, he would make a visit and they, naturally, would play cards for money with the ornate, but marked, cards. Suckling's roguish nature was eventually his downfall as he was fingered in a plot to free the Earl of Stafford from the Tower of London in 1647. He fled to Paris and was soon dead by poison, presumably self-inflicted so as to avoid living in poverty, at the age of 32.

South Sudan is the world's newest country, how did they choose their national anthem?

South Sudan is the newest country in the world, it came into existence on 9th July 2011 after an earlier referendum to break from the rest of the country. The North and South of Sudan are very different places: the South is covered in forest compared to the deserted North, is Christian and Animist compared to the Islamic North and has much more oil. As a result of the differences, until the referendum, Sudan had been immersed in Africa's longest running civil war.

The new country needed a name and they settled on South Sudan after considering “The Nile Republic” (as we found last year, Sudan contains more of the river than any other country) and “Cush” which was the name of a Biblical kingdom supposedly in the area. They also needed a National Anthem which was chosen in an X-factor style contest.

With the lyrics already written, dozens of contestants attempted to come up with a new tune while a row of judges rated each entry. The winners were Students from Juba University in the country's new capital, though critics say it struggles at times to squeeze the lyrics into the melody. Some entrants misread the instructions and tried to fit the lyrics to current pop songs.

What happens if you shave a fly's penis?

If you shave a fly's penis, it struggles to mate. Flies have barbs and hairs on their penis which act a bit like velcro. With the spines, they are virtually guaranteed to complete mating if a female is around; without them, their chances fall to around 20%. Darwin suggested way back in 1871 that they might be important, writing that "appendages at the apex of the abdomen in male insects" could function as devices "for holding her securely". And that is indeed what happens: the main role of the penile spines is to allow males to latch onto their mates long enough to actually inject sperm; fruit-fly sex for instance takes around 10 minutes all told.

853592.  Fri Oct 07, 2011 11:37 am Reply with quote

The answers to this week's #QIXXL

What kind of person is most likely to be bitten by insects?

Tall fat people are most likely to be bitten my midges for the simple reasons that they have a larger surface area and that midges are also found in greater numbers at increasing heights. 15% of people, irrespective of size, produce natural repellent and are rarely bitten.

Why did the writer of Lolita not collect mothballs?

Vladimir Nabokov collected butterfly genetalia. He said: "The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ.” and claimed that if it wasn't for the Revolution he would have probably been a lepidopterist rather than a writer. The Harvard Museum of Natural History still possesses Nabokov's "genitalia cabinet", where the author stored his collection of male blue butterfly genitalia.

He was a true expert and "developed forward-thinking ways to classifying the butterflies, based on differences in their genitalia” as well as a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves. No-one took the theory seriously at the time, but in the last 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to the Poluommatus blues and have proven the writer to be correct.

Why do ants in the Sahara run around so much?

Sahara desert ants (Cataglyphis bicolour) win the insect world records for highest heat tolerance. They forage the Sahara during the day when the surface temperature can be up to 140F but avoid reaching fatal temperatures (a core temperature of 131F will kill them) by running very fast – about 1 metre per second – to create a cooling breeze. They also have long legs which raise them 4mm off the ground, so that the air their bodies travel through is 11-13F cooler than the ground.

If they can survive the heat, the risks are worth it - at that time of day, in that awful heat, they have no competition for food, and none of their own predators are active. So they can simply scurry about eating dead insects that have been killed by the heat.

854653.  Tue Oct 11, 2011 6:48 am Reply with quote

Re: this tweet
Channel catfish can detect 100th of a teaspoonful of a substance in an Olympic swimming pool full of water.

Is that a teaspoonful of any substance or one substance in particular?


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