Weekly Wrap Volume 110

This is a weekly wrap of our popular Daily Knowledge Newsletter. You can get that newsletter for free here.

doctor-checkupWhat Does the Dangly Thing in the Back of Your Throat Do

Hanging from the back edge of your soft palate, the palatine uvula seems to serve several functions, none of which are particularly necessary for most people, which is why it can generally be removed with few, if any, noticeable side effects. In fact, in the West, the “uvula” (name deriving from the Latin “uvola,” meaning “small bunch of grapes”) is often cut out as part of uvulopalatopharyngoplasty to help patients who suffer from sleep apnea. Other cultures have long removed the uvula, sometimes as part of a ritual, to treat all manner of “throat conditions,” as well as cure everything from vomiting and diarrhea to rejecting breast feeding, growth retardation and even anorexia. Today the surgery is still occasionally practiced…(more)

Olympic-Stadion-Roof-MunichThe Silver Medal Shocker

THREE SECONDS TO GOLD! Before 1972 no U.S. men’s basketball team had ever lost in Olympic play. Starting in 1936 (the year basketball became an Olympic sport), U.S. men’s teams won 63 consecutive games—and seven straight gold medals. But just after midnight on September 10, 1972, in Munich, Germany, that golden winning streak came to a screeching end, courtesy of the Soviet Union. The final three seconds of that game may be the most controversial Olympic finish of all time, because officials allowed those three historic seconds to be played not once, not twice, but three times. TEAM OF DESTINY Although the U.S. was favored to win, the Soviet team was not only good, it was seasoned, having played hundreds of games together. The American team, on the other hand, was basically a college all-star team…(more)

womans-eyesBlue and Green Eyes are Actually Brown, So Why Do They Look Like They Aren’t?

Eye color is a function of pigmentation both at the back of the iris (iris pigment epithelium) and in its stroma (the front of the iris), as well as the density of the cells in the stroma. In most cases these factors, and hence eye color, are determined by genetics with potentially as many as 15 different genes identified to date seeming to affect the ultimate coloring in some way. However, contrary to what you might think, blue and green pigment do not exist in the human ocular fluid or iris. In fact, only a couple of pigments are involved in eye color: melanin (brown) and lipchrome (yellow). Aside from potential extreme albinism cases, all eyes have some amount of melanin…(more)

now-you-know-answers1-340x286How Much are Olympic Gold Medals Worth?

As far as the value of the raw materials in them, this varies from Olympiad to Olympiad. For the recent 2012 Olympics in London, the medals were the largest of any in Summer Olympic history up to that point, weighing in at 400g for the gold medal. Of this 400g, 394g was sterling silver (364.45g silver / 29.55g copper) with 6g of 24 karat gold plating. At the price of gold and silver when these medals were won by various Olympians, this means a gold medal in the London Olympics was worth about $624, with $304 of the value coming from the gold plating and about $320 coming from the sterling silver. Since then, the price of gold has dropped about 18% and the price of silver has dropped about 39%. For the current 2016 Rio Olympics, the gold medals are one-upping the London Games, weighing in at a a half a kilogram, with about 462g of it silver, 6g gold, and the rest copper. So by current gold and silver prices…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • While you might think Sweden’s official twitter account is run by some government PR rep, in fact, starting on December 10, 2011, Sweden’s Tourism Ministry decided to let various Swedish citizens run it, with each selected person given one week to tweet whatever they like, though they are reportedly given very loose instructions to avoid talking about politics or illegal activities. As you might imagine, this lack of oversight, combined with a very lackadaisical vetting process (mostly just looking for individuals who have previously demonstrated the ability to compose engaging tweets on their own accounts), has led to a few missteps here and there, such as in 2012 when one Sonja Abrahamsson was chosen and subsequently started very deliberately trolling it up, tweeting things like, “Whats the fuzz with jews. You can’t see if a person is a jew, unless you see their penises, and even if you do, you can’t be sure!?” But for the most part, Sweden’s “Rotation Curation” tweeting program has worked out well.
  • Tug of war was an Olympic event until after the 1920 Olympics. Multiple teams from countries were allowed, which is how the U.S. won bronze, silver, and gold in 1904. Britain did the same thing in 1908.
  • During the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when the Olympic flame was lit, they accidentally burned alive some of the doves that were released as a part of the ceremony… If you care to see this, there is footage of it on YouTube.
  • While most cheetahs have spots, very rarely one will be born with stripes as well. A cheetah with this characteristic was first documented in 1926 by Major A. Cooper who spotted and killed said cheetah in the region of modern day Zimbabwe. Since then, these so called “king cheetahs” (they were originally thought to be a separate species) have been spotted in the wild just five times, though some have also been born in captivity. In 2012, it was discovered that king cheetahs have a recessive mutation in their transmembrane aminopeptidase Q (Taqpep) gene causing the distinctive fur patterns.
  • In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the person who finished in fourth place in the women’s high jump was actually a man, German athlete Heinrich Ratjen. Two years later, he won a gold medal setting a new “women’s” world record in high jump at the European Athletics Championships, before his real gender was discovered randomly when police got a report that there was a man dressed as a woman traveling in Magdeburg.
  • While Geena Davis is perhaps best known for her acting work, in roles such as Thelma & Louise, Beetle Juice, a League of Their Own, The Accidental Tourist, and the TV series Commander in Chief (winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe along the way), what’s less well known is that she is a member of Mensa (top 2% in intelligence by IQ), is fluent in Swedish (after spending time as an exchange student in Sandviken in High School), and began her career in the spotlight as a window mannequin for Ann Taylor, directly after she graduated from college. Further, in 1997, she decided to take up a new hobby- archery. A mere two years later, she finished 24th out of 300 semifinalists who tried out for the 2000 Olympic games in Australia, narrowly missing the U.S. Olympic team.

Other Interesting Stuff

fruits-and-vegetables-340x226The Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables

An apple is a fruit, right? So is a banana. How about a cucumber? A vegetable, right? Not really, from a botanical standpoint. The good news is that, nutritionally speaking in terms of what you should eat daily, fruits and vegetables are typically grouped together, so you can simply pick your favorites and eat away without completing a science degree. The surprising news is that, scientifically speaking, many of the foods we refer to as vegetables are actually fruits! For instance, would you believe that beans, corn, bell peppers, peas, eggplant, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes are all fruits? That’s because, botanically speaking, fruits are the part of flowering plants that contain the seeds and are the means by which such plants…(more)

oscarWhat Happens When Stars Lose Their Oscars?

Made of a pewter-like alloy plated in gold, each Oscar statuette costs only about $400 to manufacture, yet its value, particularly to the person who wins it, is priceless. (It is also literally almost priceless, though not perhaps in the way you think, see: How Much is an Oscar Worth?) Despite their treasured status, a surprising number of Oscar statuettes have been lost over the years. So what happens when the Oscars go missing? One of the earliest known lost Oscars had been won by Margaret O’Brien who, as a child, received the award in 1945 for her performance of Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis. In 1954, the Oscar, which stayed with O’Brien’s mother, was taken home by a housekeeper for polishing; however, the housekeeper never returned to work and was fired, and, apparently, everyone initially forgot she had taken the Oscar. Fast-forward 40 years to a flea market where a memorabilia collector…(more)

brain-340x225You Actually Use All of Your Brain, Not 10%

Over the years, the myth that you only use about 10% of your brain has been widely spread with the source of this myth often falsely attributed to Albert Einstein. It turns out though, that every part of the brain gets used, despite what Hollywood; snake-oil type self help peddlers; and many others would have you believe. All other evidence aside, intuitively, if 90% of the brain wasn’t used for anything, then damage to those parts of the brain that comprise that 90% wouldn’t affect a person at all. In reality though, damage to just about any part of the brain, even tiny amounts, tends to have profound effects on the person who suffers that damage, at least in the short term. Further, given the amount of your body’s resources your brain uses, if 90% of it were worthless, it would be an incredible waste. For more concrete evidence, brain scans, courtesy of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technologies, show us…(more)

gay-love-340x297How ‘Gay’ Came to Mean ‘Homosexual’

The word “gay” seems to have its origins around the 12th century in England, derived from the Old French word ‘gai’, which in turn was probably derived from a Germanic word, though that isn’t completely known. The word’s original meaning meant something to the effect of “joyful”, “carefree”, “full of mirth”, or “bright and showy”. However, around the early parts of the 17th century, the word began to be associated with immorality. By the mid 17th century, according to an Oxford dictionary definition at the time, the meaning of the word had changed to mean “addicted to pleasures and dissipations. Often euphemistically: Of loose and immoral life”. This is an extension of one of the original meanings of “carefree”, meaning more or less uninhibited. Fast-forward to the 19th century and the word gay referred to…(more)

salty-and-roselleThe Amazing Salty and Roselle

There were many heroes who surfaced twelve years ago on September 11, helping people in need as the Twin Towers crumbled around them. Two you probably haven’t heard of were Salty and Roselle, guide dogs who despite the chaos, calmly led their blind owners to safety after the terrorist attacks. Salty, a yellow lab, was born in 1996 and trained as a guide dog two years later by Caroline McCabe-Sandler of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a seeing-eye-dog training facility. According to McCabe-Sandler, “Salty liked the fast pace of the city. He was definitely a city dog.” On their walks every day, Salty learned to navigate around obstacles and stop at curbs. Subways, the crowded sidewalks of Manhattan, escalators, and revolving doors were no problem for the dog. After five months of rigorous training…(more)

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