Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Flag Inspired a Frozen Treat?

July 25, 2016

Hot and Cold Soapstone Handheld Bowls | UncommonGoods
What happens if you mix pink, brown, and white?

If those colors come in ice cream form, then what happens is a mouthwatering scoop of heaven. The strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla of Neapolitan ice cream have been colorfully cohabitating in America since the 1870s. But this palate-pleaser hasn’t always drawn from the same palette of flavors. Originally, any three varieties of ice cream might have appeared together (how do they get them to sit so perfectly side by side? More on that later), and it’s thought that the version we love today became standardized simply because those were the three most popular ice cream flavors in America at the time.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why is I before E except after C?

May 11, 2015

Super Nerdy ABC Blocks | UncommonGoods

If you ask yourself why it is that spelling follows that familiar rule, you don’t have to look very far to realize that it actually doesn’t. Even if you add on the extra exceptions clause of the rhyme (about words that sound “like ā, as in neighbor or weigh), it still doesn’t explain everything. What about “protein”? Or “science”? Or the countless other words that don’t fit the rule, including some words (like “obeisancies”) that defy both halves of the couplet at the same time. Then, if this so-called rule is so ineffective, why do we all seem to rely on it? Because it is so undeniably catchy. It’s concise, it rhymes, it seems to make something complicated very straightforward, and it comes to you from a high authority—your teacher. The couplet actually originated in the 1800s, when textbooks and new teaching systems were being developed to give people access to education even without a highly trained teacher. These lesson plans often relied on rhymes to help reduce the complexities of the English language into memorable chunks. Most of those rhyming rules have been forgotten, but this one, for better or worse, is still stuck in our minds.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How old is Mother Eve?

April 20, 2015

Family Roots Platter | UncommonGoods

Many of the world’s religions have stories about the first woman, from whom all of us have descended. Well, now science has its own version of the story—they have calculated the existence of a single, female ancestor shared by all living humans. They did this by looking at mitochondrial DNA, which—unlike regular DNA, which is a combination of genes from both parents—is derived solely from the mother. Because of this consistency from generation to generation, the mutations that naturally occur this DNA over time can be tracked, allowing researchers to create a timeline of the molecule’s history. With this data, and applying a variety of mathematical models, scientists estimate that this mother of us all probably lived 200,000 years ago. However, unlike most origin-of-mankind stories, those scientists aren’t actually suggesting that their Eve was actually the first woman—just that she is the only one whose descendants are still living today.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Are plants out to get you?

April 6, 2015

Venus Fly Trap Garden Stake | UncommonGoods

Most of us would say no. Plants pretty much mind their own business, right? They just sit there, growing and photosynthesizing and stuff. Sure, there may be an outlier or two. Carnivorous plants, like the Venus fly trap. Plants that produce deadly poisons, like the strychnine tree. Or even parasitic plants like the dodder vine, which somehow has developed the ability to smell other plants, carefully reaching out its tendrils to wrap around their stems before stabbing them with its juice-sucking vampire fangs. But, you know, most of us just try not to think about such things. There are some people, however, who are simply not able to ignore the danger and general, dirt-based unpleasantness of foliage. These people suffer from botanophobia—the fear of plants. As you might suspect, they tend to spend most of their time indoors. It sounds like a rather bizarre affliction, and yet it has been observed all the way back to the dawn of modern psychotherapy. As it turns out Sigmund Freud himself was a botanophobe. Not just that, he was of a specific subset of general plant paranoia known as pteridophobia—he had a morbid fear of ferns.

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Uncommon Knowledge: How do you play hooky?

March 23, 2015

F In Exams | UncommonGoods

Doesn’t the phrase “playing hooky” suggest that “hooky” is some kind of game? And if so, what are the rules? How do you win? Well, some might argue that just skipping out on school is enough of a win (although that explanation will get you after-school detention for sure). But it turns out that hooky really does have rules, and you probably already know them—you just don’t recognize the name. That’s because hooky comes from the Dutch word hoekje, which what you call the game “hide-and-seek” in the Netherlands. The children of Dutch settlers played this in the American colonies in the 17th century, but it wasn’t until the 19th century, though, that teachers and parents became the unwilling participants on the “finding” end of the game.

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Uncommon Knowledge: Can coffee improve your relationships?

March 16, 2015

His or Her Woodland Mug | UncommonGoods

In your personal interactions, there’s a good chance you enjoy spending time with warm personalities, or that you worry if a special relationship starts to grow cold. What you might not realize, however, is that those temperature words are not just metaphorical. Researchers in multiple studies have found, for example, that not only are lonely people more likely to report being cold, but that coldness can actually increase feelings of loneliness. On the other hand, warmth increases our feelings of personal engagement. Contact with something warm, like a mug of fresh coffee or a heating pad, helped to soothe painful sad memories, promote positive impressions about other people, and even increase acts of generosity and self-sacrifice. So if your steamy romance is starting to get a chill, maybe you just need to turn up the thermostat.

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Uncommon Knowledge: Was + or = invented first?

February 17, 2015

Math Formulas Tie | UncommonGoods

It seems hard to believe that +, = and all the other symbols of the mathematical world haven’t always simply existed like they do now. But in fact, the plus sign didn’t come around until the 15th century. A symbolic contraction of the Latin word et, meaning “and,” it took another hundred years or so for it to be widely adopted. Maybe it was that handy “and” sign that inspired Robert Recorde, in 1557, to use two parallel lines to represent “is equal to.” But if we know when these math symbols were invented, it brings up the question of what mathematicians were using before that. The horrifying answer? Story problems. Here is an actual question from a 9th century, Persian text about algebra: “I have divided ten into two parts, and multiplying one of these by the other, the result was twenty-one.” Shiver.

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