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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: When Did Chocolate Become Hot?

June 20, 2016

A-Maze-ing Chocolate Server | UncommonGoods
Centuries before scientists began dissecting chocolate in the lab (It fights belly fat! It helps your attention span! It aids workouts!), a certain form of it was considered the pinnacle of health food: hot–okay, warm–chocolate.

In southern Mexico between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, people of the Olmec civilization ground nibs from the cacao plant into a paste, mixed it with water, then poured the substance back and forth between two jugs to achieve froth. Olmecs believed the substance contained mystic properties, hence it was saved for VIPs to consume during sacred ceremonies.

From the Olmecs, the drink spread to the Mayans and then to the Aztecs, whose leader—Montezuma II—was, perhaps, its most famous historical fan. The emperor was known to guzzle goblets of the stuff–and share only with soldiers so they could reap the concoction’s strengthening benefits. After Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs (who added sugar–unknown to the Aztecs–to the brew), he brought the chocolate sensation to Spain, where it soon spread throughout Europe.

Back in the Americas during the Revolutionary War, medics administered hot chocolate to wounded soldiers due to its perceived health benefits. (Benjamin Franklin even recommended the satisfying sip as a cure for smallpox in his 1761 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac.

All this to say, science may be pretty sweet — but our chocolate instincts are even sweeter.

A-Maze-ing Chocolate Server | $40

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why is That Candy Bar Ticking?

June 16, 2016

 

18982_HellPaperweightIn the thick of World War II, both the Axis and Allies were willing to try anything to turn the tides of that terrible conflict—including death by chocolate. And we’re not talking over-the-top dessert decadence here; we’re talking about a bona fide killer candy bar. The Nazis actually attempted to assassinate Sir Winston Churchill by means of an exploding chocolate bar. Hitler’s bomb-makers coated explosive devices with a thin disguise of dark chocolate and wrapped them in luxurious black and gold paper. Labeled “Peters Chocolate,” the deadly desserts were to be slipped into the dining room used by Churchill’s War Cabinet, in hopes that the British leader would take a bite that would be his last. Fortunately for Churchill, MI5 agents headed off the plot, and the public was warned to steer clear of the tempting treats. Still, this spy story makes Wonka’s perilous chocolate factory look like a carefree trip on the Good Ship Lollipop.

“Keep Going” Paperweight | $36

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why Do Ladies Love Cool James?

June 15, 2016

Science has finally confirmed the reason ladies love the rather literally named LL Cool J—at least if humans are anything like birds, specifically nightingales. Research suggests that the quality of a male nightingale’s song lets females know how good a father he’ll be.

Bird and Nest Copper Garden Stake | UncommonGoodsThe study, published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, found that the better the male nightingale was at singing, the more often he fed his offspring, which is especially important because the males play a big role in raising their young. Because all nightingales are pretty talented singers, it’s essential that the ladies are real critics of nocturnal ditties. They listen not just for the quality of their potential mate’s chirp but also for the complexity of his crooning—scientists found that it’s flight-of-fancy variations such as “buzz,” “whistle,” and “trill” that really earn him bonus points.

Bird and Nest Copper Garden Stake | $88.00

 

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Can Fatherhood Rewire a Man’s Brain?

June 13, 2016

Brain Dots Tie | UncommonGoods
Fatherhood can change a man’s life; it can also change his brain. While most studies of the neurological changes that occur in early parenthood have focused on mom, scientists have recently discovered that dad experiences his own distinct mental shifts after bringing home his little bundle of joy. Some of these changes are immediate, and others occur gradually as the proud papa settles into his new role.

A study analyzed 16 fathers several weeks after their babies were born, and again a few months later. At each check, the researchers used an MRI to image the brain. Compared with the earlier scans, the MRI at three to four months postpartum showed growth in the hypothalamus, amygdala, and other regions that regulate emotion, motivation, and decision making. In men exclusively, parts of the brain that related to self-related thinking and responding to threats shrank, while the area responsible for empathy and auditory processing grew. This is your brain on baby.

Brain Dots Tie | $40

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Uncommon Knowledge: Why Did the Dad Cross the Road?

June 8, 2016

21361_dads_playbookThe fact that dad jokes are terrible isn’t exactly carved in stone, but it’s often taken for granite. Recent studies show that dad humor is actually full of useful information. For example, the fact that chicken coops have two doors because if they had four, they’d be chicken sedans. Or the fact that employees of calendar factories can get fired if they take a couple of days off. Or the fact that dreaming about being a muffler can leave you exhausted the next morning. So the astounding secret of dad humor is that it’s really a covert campaign to share fatherly wisdom, in the guise of cringe-worthy jokes and punishing puns. But don’t look to your dad to help with your knowledge of math: another study has shown that 5/4 of fathers are bad with fractions.

Dad’s Playbook | $13

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Uncommon Knowledge: What Do You Give the Cosmonaut Who Has Everything?

June 6, 2016

23414_060616Some Father’s Day gifts fall squarely in the category of “you shouldn’t have” (we’re looking at you, football-shaped TV remote from the mall). But some gifts for dad are truly stellar. Take for example the talking picture frame presented to cosmonaut Yuri Usachev in 2001. A gift from his daughter back on earth, the state-of-the-art frame made its odyssey from earth to the International Space Station thanks to Radio Shack, which filmed the presentation for a commercial. Guess Moscow’s department stores were fresh out of “My Dad’s Out of This World” mugs.

Outer Space Sand Art | $110

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Uncommon Knowledge: Why Don’t Dads Squeak to Their Pipsqueaks?

June 1, 2016

Lil Mib | UncommonGoodsPapa don’t reach: If you’ve ever tried to recall dear old dad cooing to you as a child but couldn’t, your memory likely isn’t to blame. Researchers have known for decades that moms tend to speak to their babies in high-pitched, repetitive “baby talk” voices, or what they refer to as parentese or motherese — isn’t that right wittle muffin muffin? But after deciding to check, they recently discovered dads don’t do the same. At this past summer’s Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, speech scientists at Washington State University revealed what they found after recording mamas and papas speaking to their 2 ½ year-olds for a full day: Each mother raised the pitch of her voice by an average of 40 hertz when talking to her preschooler, whereas very few fathers changed their tones.

Earlier studies have concluded that baby talk may help kids learn language skills, but word to your father: his pitch is still perfect. “Dads talk to kids like they talk to adults,” said study co-author Mark VanDam — something his team surmised could help wee ones communicate better with the outside world. Seems like the language of love is universal, indeed.

Lil’ Mib (Message in a Box) | $66

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Uncommon Knowledge: Who Made Jaws’ Jaws?

May 31, 2016

22179_SharkSlippersThe blockbuster’s iconic poster image owes as much to a museum as it does to pulp fiction illustration. The monstrous Great White shark surging from the bottom of the frame toward a hapless swimmer was designed by Roger Kastel for the paperback edition of Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel. From that, you might expect that Kastel spent weeks in a wetsuit and a shark cage, studying the ocean’s uber-predators firsthand. Nope. He just took the C train uptown to the American Museum of Natural History to study their shark exhibits, dry and threatened only by mobs of tourists. Kastel’s museum inspirations might have included the fearsome, disembodied reconstruction of a Carcharodon megalodon’s jaws, a shark ancestor that terrorized the seas some 10 million years ago. The bathing beauty at the top of Kastel’s image was actually a model that he had been sketching for a Good Housekeeping ad. He asked her to stay a little longer and had her pose for the image by lying on a stool and pretending to swim.

Handmade Shark Slippers | $42

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