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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Game’s Got the Most Moves?

May 11, 2016

16834_uk051116“A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing.”

– Emo Philips

Most amateurs who’ve tried playing chess can agree on one thing: the basic rules aren’t hard to follow, but learning to play well is incredibly difficult. There’s a reason that the “game of kings” is associated with mind-bending strategic thinking, MENSA-level IQs, and supercomputers: the Shannon number—a calculation of all the possible iterations of moves in games of chess. Calculated by mathematician and cryptographer Claude Shannon in 1950 for a study on teaching a computer to play chess, the Shannon number is between 10^111 and 10^123. Incredibly, that’s substantially larger than the number of atoms in the known universe—a mere 10^81. It’s no wonder the game is a nail-biting brain teaser.

Bonus: also in 1950, Shannon invented Theseus, a magnetic mouse. Named for the maze-running hero of Greek mythology, Theseus was programmed to “learn” to navigate mazes, and may be the first rudimentary form of artificial intelligence.

Wobble Chess Set | $250

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s the Gold Standard for Sushi?

May 9, 2016

41752_uk050916As much a fine art as a cuisine, Japanese food can be a pricey proposition. Sushi in particular inspires chefs to go to great lengths, pushing the envelope of freshness, presentation, and…price. Sure, the ingredients can be expensive, and sushi preparation isn’t exactly cooking 101, but unusual and extravagant preparations also add a premium. Take for example the current record holder for world’s most expensive sushi: nigiri prepared by Filipino chef Angelito Araneta at his Manila restaurant. Wrapped in 24-karat gold leaf and garnished with diamonds, these five pieces of sushi will set you back 91,800 pesos, or nearly $2,000 USD. Yes, that’s about $400 per piece. At that price, you could fly from Manila to Tokyo and enjoy the equally famous (and much more traditional), 20-piece tasting menu at Sukiyabashi Jiro (about $300). The tiny Tokyo establishment—subject of the fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi—is often cited as the best sushi in the world, and President Obama seems to agree after dining there on a state visit in 2014. No gold or diamonds at Jiro’s joint; that would just be fishy.

Sushi Board Set | $75

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Where Did the Silhouette Get its Name?

May 8, 2016

Custom Silhouette Tote | UncommonGoods

Long before selfies, the silhouette was a popular, cheap alternative to formal portraiture like oil paintings or marble busts. From the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, they were a common way to quickly capture a likeness, preserved today only as souvenirs from spots like Colonial Williamsburg. But did you ever wonder why they’re called silhouettes instead of “quaint black paper cut-outs often seen over Grandma’s mantle?” Other than that being a mouthful, silhouettes are named for Étienne de Silhouette, a mid-eighteenth century French economist. If this doesn’t make perfect sense, let me profile it for you. A sharp critic of the French aristocracy’s spendthrift ways, Silhouette’s conservative economic approach became synonymous with “cheap” in his day, making silhouette shorthand for chintzy things, including cut paper portraits. While this is the most plausible theory of the association, it might also be based on the brevity of Silhouette’s tenure (less than a year), reflecting the short sitting required for a silhouette. It’s also suspected that Silhouette himself was a weekend silhouette maker, so his hobby was named for him. In any case, that’s the outline of this quirky history.

Custom Silhouette Tote | $100

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What to Expect When Your Wolf Is Expecting

May 4, 2016

Expecting You | UncommonGoodsPublishers in search of the next bestselling parenting book might think about looking outside the human species. Studies of female wolves have shown that the steely-eyed predator makes an excellent mother, relying heavily on her instincts.

As if to recognize that once the pups arrive she will be a bit preoccupied, a female wolf spends an extra amount of time cuddling, playing, and hunting with her mate in the months leading up to the birth. She will also nest, creating a suitable den in which to give birth and bond with her pups in the following weeks. Though this space is declared a no-mate zone, she will oftentimes invite a female “midwife” in for support.

Scientists have not yet taken a stance on the highly debated question, “How early is too early for an iPad?” but we have a feeling the deer community would agree that when it comes to wolf pup distraction, there’s no such thing as too young.

Expecting You – A Keepsake Pregnancy Journal  | $12.95

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Is There a Mom in Your Computer?

May 2, 2016

27218_uk050216Sometimes, it seems like mothers aren’t honored enough. Sure, mom has a special holiday, but honestly, when’s the last time you called her? But if you’re reading this on a computer, there’s a built in tribute to motherhood right in front of you: the “motherboard.” The central circuit board of your computer, the motherboard could be considered the most important piece of hardware in your CPU—reason enough for reverence. How did these crucial components get their name? Why not daddy boards? The term hails from the early days of computing, when documents show the term “baby-board” to describe circuitry that branched off the motherboard. In an era when mothers were widely considered the sole caregivers for children, the maternal metaphor was a natural. “Baby-board” soon became the more specific term “daughterboard,” and this relationship infused computer architecture with a matriarchal tone that persists to this day, despite fathers’ more progressive role in raising kids. So the next time your computer helps you with a tedious task or performs some amazing feat of calculation, consider giving it a loving pat and saying “thanks, mom.”

Tesla Circuit Building Set | $100