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Week of February 28, 2021

Twinkle, Twinkle

Sunday

Stars twinkle when viewed from Earth, but not when viewed from space. The twinkle is caused by our atmosphere’s effects on starlight, which comes from very far away. Planets, viewed from earth, don’t twinkle, because they are much, much closer. For this reason, however, closer stars twinkle a little less.

Monday

“Shooting stars” or “falling stars” are not stars at all, but meteors and meteorites which burn bright as they enter the earth’s atmosphere and experience friction with the air. These typically consist of mostly space rock and dust, and meteorites make it to the surface while meteors burn up entirely in the atmosphere.

Tuesday

Our sun is big, bright, and warm in the summer sky, but is still about 93 million miles away. This means that even at the mind-boggling speed of light, if takes sunlight 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Earth.

Wednesday

What’s the closest star to Earth? The sun, or course, but the next is Proxima Centauri, which is really a three-star system. Still, “close” is relative. Voyager I, already traveling at a brain-bending 38,000 mph, would take over 73,000 years to get there.

Thursday

Stars are popular. They appear on the flags of 59 different countries, featuring stars with anywhere from 4 points (Aruba) to 24 points (Marshall Islands).

Friday

Stars aren’t even remotely similar in size or temperature. Among observed stars, the largest are up to 60,000,000 times larger that the smallest, and surface temperature can range by over 65,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Saturday

You know that Moby song “We Are All Made of Stars”? It’s true. The carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and all other elements in your body came from the end-of-life explosions of stars long ago, which ejected these heavier elements into space for the raw material of younger stars, planets, people, and about everything else we see.

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Week of February 21, 2021

Seven-Barreled Facts

Sunday

If someone has “got you over a barrel,” it implies they’re in control and you’re not. People rescued from near-drownings used to be draped a barrel while the water was cleared from their lungs. However, in the more sinister situations which likely inspired the term, people were put over barrels and tied in this position to receive beatings.

Monday

Since booze often used to be shipped in barrels, “barrel fever” can be sickness from excessive drinking, a hangover, or in the longer term, the physical debilitation which often comes with chronic drinking.

Tuesday

The shipping of booze in barrels gave the early oil industry the idea for shipping their liquid in this standardized unit. A standard oil barrel was made 42 gallons, 2 gallons more than a whiskey barrel to cover spillage and evaporation in transport. Though most modern oil never sees the inside of a barrel, this standardized unit remains worldwide

Wednesday

Food was also traditionally stored in barrels, so when you were running out and had to take the leftovers and remains on the very bottom, you were “scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Thursday

Perhaps you’ve recklessly gone barrelling down the highway in your car, but this term likely comes from the wooden vehicle. Back when barrels were common in households and farms, thrill-seeking youngsters would climb in and roll down hills. You cannot steer nor stop the average barrel from inside, so this pastime was rather dangerous.

Friday

The surname “Cooper” originally meant a person in the business of making and fixing barrels, buckets, and casks. It is now a common first name.

Saturday

The long tube of a gun or cannon which ammunition travels through is called a “barrel” because these tubes were either designed from or had an appearance like actual barrels in early weapons.

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Week of February 14, 2021

This One’s On Your Head

Sunday

When one player scores three goals in a single hockey game, it is called a “hat trick.” However, this term actually originated in a 1858 cricket match in England, when bowler H.H. Stephenson hit all 3 wooden stakes behind the batter 3 times in a row, that is, he bowled three consecutive wickets. Money was collected to recognize his impressive feat and used to buy him a hat.

Monday

But can’t you hang a hat just about anywhere? Yes, which is why the saying “home is where you hang your hat” refers to wherever you happen to live as opposed to a place you may have a sentimental connection to.

Tuesday

Boxing wasn’t always two predetermined fighters facing off in a square ring. It used to be an actual circular ring with spectators all around who could themselves become the fighters. Someone would “throw their hat in the ring” to announce their interest, and the referee would look for a second hat, if needed, to recognize a challenger.

Wednesday

Once all competitors were ready, races and fights had to start on a clear, fast signal. Before starting guns, this was often an official dropping a hat or swiftly swinging one downward. Hence, something done or decided quickly is said to be done “at the drop of a hat.”

Thursday

Tipping your hat to someone, which may include merely touching it or removing it is a sign of nonverbal acknowledgment or respect. It is most often done by men and is likely related to military saluting (see this website’s post of 10/18/2020). However, where there was a difference of status between the tippers, one may only need to touch his hat while another had to remove it, similar to the depth of a bow in bowing cultures.

Friday

This status-indicating hat etiquette described above also explains why a humble person might appear “hat in hand,” acknowledging their subordinate position.

Saturday

Though the first magician or “conjurer” to pull a rabbit out of a hat could have been either Louis Conte or John Henry Anderson, this classic magic trick has been around since the early 19th century.

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Week of February 7, 2021

Sensible Pseudonyms

Sunday

Rapper Jay-Z had the childhood nickname “Jazzy,” and also grew up near the J/Z subway station in New York, so adopted that musical name (he was born Shawn Carter).

Monday

Electronic musician Moby’s late father gave him that nickname because Moby is the great, great, grandnephew of Herman Melville, author of the classic novel Moby Dick (born Richard Melville Hall).

Tuesday

Rapper Eminem is just using his initials; he was born Marshall Mathers III.

Wednesday

Public Enemy’s Chuck D is shortening his real name, Carlton Douglas Riddenhour.

Thursday

The Beastie Boys’ stage names are related to their birth names: Mike D was born Michael Diamond, Ad-Rock is Adam (Horowitz) and MCA is short for MC Adam (Yauch).

Friday

Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie, was indeed a large man. Born Christopher Wallace, his autopsy reported that he was 6’2″ and 395 lbs. when he died at age 24.

Saturday

Run-DMC was named for Joseph Simmons’ earlier DJ name, DJ Run, and the D and Mc of member Darryl McDaniels. The other member was Jam Master Jay, born Jason Mizzel.

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Week of January 31, 2021

Of Gods and Telescopes

The namesakes of the planets in our solar system are:

Sunday

Fast-moving Mercury is named for the speedy Roman messenger god.

Monday

Venus is named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty.

Tuesday

Earth, the only planet not named for a Greek or Roman deity, gets its name from Germanic words for “ground.”

Wednesday

Red Mars is named for the Roman god of war.

Thursday

Jupiter, our largest planet, is named for the king of the Roman gods.

Friday

Saturn is named for the Roman god of agriculture, and Uranus is named for the Greek god of the sky.

Saturday

Bright blue Neptune was named for the Roman sea god. Condolences to Pluto, demoted from planet status in 2006, but still named for the Roman god of the underworld.