Asked by Godfrey Franecki in Valentine's Day, Holidays and Traditions

Was Valentine's Day created by greeting card companies?

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On one hand, I’ll quell your fears: Greeting card companies didn’t create Valentine’s Day—they simply cashed in on an established holiday. But about those purer origins you seek…can’t really help you there, boss. The history of the holiday is a murky, bloodsoaked lake. The concept of a passion-oriented tradition in mid-February dates back to ancient Rome with the Lupercalia festival. From Feb. 13–15, drunken (and potentially naked) Roman men would sacrifice goats and dogs, then take to the streets to whip women with strips of the sacrificial hides. This was supposed to increase their fertility. How romantic—err, at least Roman. Meanwhile, Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two Christian men named Valentine on separate Feb. 14s in the third century. Legend has it that one of the men, before his beheading, wrote a note to a woman and signed it “from your Valentine.” There doesn’t appear to be much truth to that part of the story, but in the murky lake of legend, does it really matter? In the late fifth century, Lupercalia was struck from the Roman calendar in an effort to eliminate pagan traditions. St. Valentine’s Day, however, was added to the calendar in 496 A.D. to honor the third-century martyrs. Perhaps in the absence of Lupercalia in mid-February, people began associating fertility, and eventually pure love, with Valentine’s Day. By the Middle Ages, Chaucer was romanticizing the holiday in his poems; Shakespeare followed suit a few hundred years later. Eventually, romantic Europeans were hand-making cards to give to their true loves on Feb. 14. Then, yes, in the 19th and 20th centuries, greeting card companies made absolute boatloads of cash by making it incredibly easy for said romantics.
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Asked by Merlin Ankunding in Thunderstorms and Lightning, Meteorology and Weather

Why doesn’t lightning travel in a straight line?

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So it’s kind of a complicated process, but here’s the two-sentence version: Lightning is an electric current that takes the path of least resistance from the base of a cloud to the ground. Since the air it travels through is not uniform—variations in things like temperature, humidity, and pollutants determine how resistant air is to the charge—the lightning has to zig and zag to stay on that path.
Asked by Alena Robel in Cheetahs, Domestic Dogs, Zoology or Animal Biology

Why are there dogs in some zoos’ cheetah exhibits?

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I too have seen those pictures, and they are adorable. Cheetahs that live in captivity tend to be really anxious, and some zoos pair them with happy-go-lucky dogs hoping they’ll teach the cheetahs to be more relaxed. They can even help them cope with hard times, like having to have surgery. True heroes, we have no choice but to stan.
Asked by Elijah Koch in Internet, Friendship

What’s your best internet friend story?

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My friends and I used to chill in Xbox Live parties for hours. We had a buddy named DrunkMonkey, who lived across the country from us, but would pop in and chill with us all the same. This isn't a unique story—I just found it interesting that we 1) had a friend we referred to without laugh as "DrunkMonkey", 2) he'd talk with us like old pals even though we'd never met him.
Asked in Science, Biology, Benjamin Franklin, Celebrity Births Deaths and Ages

Who was Rosalind Franklin?

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Rosalind Franklin was a distinguished scientist whose research played a pivotal role in discovering the structure of DNA. However, she wasn’t widely credited for that discovery until fairly recently. She earned her PhD in physical chemistry from Cambridge University in 1945, and she did her pivotal DNA research at King’s College between 1951 and 1953. The controversy over her role in the discovery of DNA’s structure stems from the fact that Maurice Wilkins, another researcher at King’s College, showed Franklin’s images of DNA to James Watson, another scientist trying to create a DNA model. Watson and his research partner Francis Crick published a paper about it shortly after, and Wilkins, Watson, and Crick all went on to receive a Nobel Prize for the double helix DNA model. Franklin was not recognized. She spent the rest of her career studying viruses at Birkbeck College, and she passed away in 1958.
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Asked by Charlie Schulist in Oscars, Eminem

Why did Eminem perform at the 2020 Oscars?

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No, you’re not missing anything. We’re all confused. Eminem wasn’t up for any awards this year, and there was nothing that suddenly made “Lose Yourself” more culturally relevant this year. The rapper’s tweet about his performance implied that it was to make up for the fact that he couldn’t make it to the 2003 ceremony where “Lose Yourself” was honored with Best Original Song. And since the performance was introduced with a montage about the power of music in films, I guess that’s what made it make sense? We’re all talking about it, anyway, and that was clearly the goal.
Asked by Karley Harber in Passport Requirements, Travel & Places

Why won't they let you smile in your passport photo?

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There are now biometric scanners in airports that are meant to prevent fraud and terrorism by providing additional identity verification. Smiling is actually considered an unnatural expression, which makes it more difficult for this facial recognition software to work effectively. According to Angela Aggeler, spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, smiling "distorts other facial features, for example your eyes, so you're supposed to have a neutral expression. … The most neutral face is the most desirable standard for any type of identification.”
Asked by Gabriella Roob in Movies, Oscars

What was the best movie of 2019?

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2019 was a very strong year for the film industry. Avengers: Engame became the highest-grossing film of all time, the Star Wars Saga came to a close, and many unique and interesting independent films were released and well-received. I have a hard time narrowing down just one movie, so here's my Top 5 of 2019 (in order): Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho) I was already a major fan of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, and was certainly looking forward to his latest project. This movie absolutely floored me and after seeing it four times now, I can comfortably call it his masterpiece. This is one of those films that I think is best to go in as cold as possible, knowing very little about the plot or the themes. The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers) Eggers' period piece horror film The Witch (2015) is easily one my favorite horror films in recent years, and his sophomore effort is something entirely different and wonderful. The Lighthouse offers career-best performances from both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, eery sound design, incredibly realistic period-specific dialogue, and a Lovecraftian madness that is sure to delight horror fans. Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino) Tarantino's filmography has been pretty hit-or-miss for me, as I find the tone of most of his movies a little too similar. However, his newest entry really impressed me with its authentic laid-back take on 1969 Hollywood. Brad and Leo give some stellar, nuanced performances as well. Definitely a fun and nostalgic ride! Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell) After being impressed with Mitchell's debut effort It Follows (2014), I was definitely on the lookout for his next project. And yes, I do know that Under the Silver Lake is technically a film from 2018, but I live in the United States and it was released here the following year, so I'm counting it. This cryptic and frantic comedy-thriller had an extremely unique tone and an excellent performance from Andrew Garfield. Check this one out if you are looking for a brain teaser-type of experience. Avengers: Engame (dir. Joe & Anthony Russo) While I'm not the biggest fan of comic book movies or blockbusters in general, I think the monumental achievement that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really something to behold. Never before had we seen such a vast collection of films in one series that encompassed so many varying characters, themes, and stories. I'd even go so far as to call Avengers: Endgame more than a movie. To me, it felt like a huge cultural event that the whole world of moviegoers got to experience together, and that was truly special.
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Asked by Kitty Schaden in Idioms, Cliches, and Slang, Literature and Language

Where did the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” come from?

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I have no reason to support the idea that cats and dogs would take shelter in a thatched roof and, if the rain got hard enough, they could be washed out, leading to a lot of rain being referred to as "raining cats and dogs." But if you're thinking that this would require the cats and dogs to be ON TOP of the roof, you aren't picturing a thatched roof. A thatched roof is made of layers of rushes, reeds harvested from marshy land, laid over the rafters(?) in rows with the rushes tied in bundles. When the roof is completely covered in bundles of reeds, they cover it again with bundles of reeds. It isn't like a modern roof, a flat layer of thin shingles over a thin layer of felt; the thatching on a thatched roof would be a foot or more thick... and not as waterproof as you might think. But the thickness of the layers of thatch and the steep pitch of typical roofs allowed the water to run off the roof before it could rain into the house. If you picture such a roof in a rainstorm and, in your mind's eye, zoom in to a single drop of rain falling onto the roof, you will see it splash on a reed in the top layer of thatching. Some of it runs down that particular reed to the next one and on out of your sight. But part of that drop, and part of all the others striking that roof, ever, goes into the little valley where one reed meets its neighboring reed, and some of THAT water will leak through the very top layer of reeds, or thatching, to be intercepted by the next layer down and, mostly, diverted down toward the eaves and beyond the footprint of the house, as intended. But some of it will leak down through to the next layer, and so on. You can see why, if you're going to make a roof out of a bunch of skinny straws jammed up against each other and held in place by string, you would lay them on kind of thick. Over time the roof would become quite the ecosystem, too, with lots of things living there. Basically every pest you would want to keep out of your house and lots of the the things that eat the pests and some of the things that eat the things that eat the pests would wind up living in, not on, the roof, making dens and pathways in the roof. This is another reason to make the roof extra thick, so it can keep keeping the rain out when half of it has been compromised by rodents building superhighways through it. Of course, this roof is completely organic, so it's essentially compost. The rushes don't break down as quickly as lawn clippings by a long shot, but the process is the same over a 10- or 20-year span. So eventually you're sitting at your kitchen table, having a nice cuppa, and it's raining, of course, because it's always raining in Britain and Western Europe and that's where your thatched roof is so that's where your house is because it needs a roof, and it's about to need another one, because after 20 years the thatch really is compost, which is not a good construction material. In addition, today it is raining really hard so tons of water are falling on the roof every few minutes and all the beast and beasties that know enough to come in out of the rain, the insects and spiders and lizards and birds and mice and rats and yard cats and the dog you won't let in the house because he is so muddy, they all have retreated into the roof. Not on, in. When the roof fails in the downpour it goes from drips to streams to sagging to colllapsing in a hurry, and along with the water flooding down into your kitchen comes quite a lot of wildlife. I suppose you could tell the neighbors that it was raining rats and lizards in your house, but that might reflect badly on you. Better, and just as truthful, to say it was raining cats and dogs.
Asked by Harley Cassin in Charles Dickens

Was Charles Dickens really paid by the word?

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Although this theory would explain why his novels tend to be rather...dense, it’s not true. Dickens published most of his novels serially, meaning one section would be printed and sold each month, and he was paid for each one of these installments. For his first full-length novel, The Pickwick Papers, that meant 19 monthly installments at 32 pages each (except the last, which was a special “double issue”), and Dickens got paid each time he turned in 32 pages of text. So, even though he wasn’t paid for each word, what is true is that he had a monetary incentive to make his novels longer, and honestly, I don’t blame him.
Asked by Khalid Waters in Science, Rain and Flooding, Clouds, Weight and Mass

How much do clouds weigh?

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To calculate the weight of a cloud, you first have to figure out how dense it is. The average density of a cumulus cloud is around half a gram of water per cubic meter. Second, you need to determine how big the cloud is, presumably by measuring its shadow while the sun is above it. A typical cloud is about a kilometer across and roughly cube shaped, meaning it has a volume of one billion cubic meters. Using this formula, scientists have determined that the average cumulus cloud weighs around 1.1 million pounds.
Asked by Emilia Bartell in Oral Health and Dental Care

What should you do if your tooth gets knocked out?

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You should find your tooth and put something on the oozing blood then call a dentist and get help ASAP.
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Asked by Carlo Kiehn in Air Travel, History of Aviation

How long is the shortest commercial flight?

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The UK airline Loganair has a flight that goes from the island of Westray to the island of Papa Westray in the Northern Isles of Scotland. It covers about 1.7 miles and lasts around a minute on average. If there is a strong headwind, the flight can take closer to two-and-a-half minutes; with a tailwind, it’s been completed in 53 seconds.
Asked by Yasmine Welch in Iowa, Politics and Government

What went wrong with the Iowa caucus?

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The results of the 2020 Iowa caucus were delayed considerably for the Democratic party. The delay is being largely blamed on reporting and coding problems with the new smartphone app that is being used to collect results. In the face of harsh criticism for the issue-riddled caucus, Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure shared the following update late Monday night: “We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results. In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report. This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”
Asked by Tavares Cole in Federal Laws, Politics and Government

What happens to the funds a politician raised when they drop out of a race?

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I’ll limit this answer to the funds the politician’s own campaign raises, not Political Action Committees (PAC) associated with candidates, since that part gets pretty messy. Also, it should be noted that it’s pretty rare to have a lot of excess funds at the end of a race—most money raised gets spent quickly, and the reason why many candidates drop out is that they ran out of money. However, failed politicians do have a few options for leftover cash. The laws vary from state to state, but at the federal level, they’ll first tie up whatever loose ends the campaign might have, like debts or outstanding operating costs. With the rest, they can donate it to charities or political parties, donate up to $2,000 of it per election to another candidate (or $5,000 to a PAC), or save it for if they decide to run again. One thing they can’t do is pocket it for personal use.
Asked by Arden Smith in Gophers and Groundhogs

Did the groundhog see its shadow yesterday?

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In 2020, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. If he's to be believed, that means we'll have an early spring this year, but you must remember that Punxsutawney Phil isn't a very good predictor. From 2008 to 2018, he got it right a measly 40 percent of the time.
Asked by Jude Beatty in American Football History, Super Bowl

What's your favorite moment in Super Bowl history?

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There’s plenty, but as a jilted Rams fan, I’ve gotta go with The Tackle at Super Bowl XXXIV. So often, games end in crushing fashion—you think you have it won, but as the clock ticks down and the opposing team drives closer to your endzone, your dreams deflate and eventually get stomped on, stamped out, covered in the enemy’s confetti. This time, though, we HELD ON—Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped Titans receiver Kevin Dyson one yard short of the endzone on the last play of the game, taking our dreams off the turf and holding them high with the Lombardi Trophy. Sucked for Titans fans, their dreams getting stomped on and all, but hey, that’s sports.
Asked by Trent Rodriguez in Meteorology and Weather, Clouds

Is it possible to modify the weather?

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It’s hard to say. While we can’t change daily temperatures, there’s some evidence that we can modify precipitation with a method called cloud seeding. The United States uses cloud seeding to alleviate droughts, induce snowfall near ski resorts, and even reduce hailstone size and fog. A crash course on cloud seeding: Usually by plane, but occasionally by other means like chimneys or even cannons, certain chemical compounds are introduced into clouds. The hope is that these compounds—the most popular being silver iodide—turn water droplets into ice crystals, making them heavy enough to fall from the clouds. In the cold, they’ll be snowflakes; in warmer temperatures, they’ll melt into raindrops. Further, we seed fog with dry ice to increase visibility at airports; we seed potential hail-producing clouds to create more individual ice nuclei, lessening hailstones’ potential for growth. All this said, there’s some disagreement about whether cloud seeding even works. Some studies say it doesn’t affect precipitation; others, using ground-based radars to examine particles within clouds, say they do.
Asked by Lilliana Rogahn in Head, Ears, and Nose, Respiratory System, Winter

Why does cold weather cause runny noses?

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A couple different cold-weather factors contribute to there being just too much fluid for the nose to hold (gross, I know, but true). First, because winter air tends to be very dry, the nose has to produce a lot of extra fluid to humidify it properly on its way to the lungs. Sometimes it makes so much that it runs right out the end of the nose. What’s more, when that warm, moisturized air gets breathed back out into cold, dry surroundings, it condenses on the cold tip of the nose, adding even more fluid.
Asked by Joanne Skiles in Super Bowl, Football - American, TV Programming and Commercials

How much do companies pay for Super Bowl commercials?

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Short answer: a lot. Longer answer: a whole lot. More than before. Full answer: In 2020, the game’s priciest 30-second commercial slots sold for $5–5.6 million. Slots before and after the game, meanwhile, sold for $2–3 million. Considering that in 2008, that was the cost of an in-game commercial, it’s safe to say that the cost of advertising is going up. They cost so much, obviously, because so many people watch it. Since 2008, average viewership for the game has routinely eclipsed 100 million people. Of the top 20 most-viewed single-network broadcasts in American history, 19 of them were Super Bowls (shoutout to the M*A*S*H finale for cracking that top 20).
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