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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Is That Mother Bear Ready to Throw Down?

April 27, 2016

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Any Cub Scout, Brownie, or avid camper has heard this bit of wilderness wisdom: never get between a mother bear and her cubs. The conventional wisdom is that mother bears are fierce family protectors and symbols of maternal devotion. In The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio found this out the hard way…ouch. But are all mother bears such formidable foes? The bear facts are interesting: it depends on what member of the Ursidae family you encounter. Black bear moms—the type you’re most likely to cross paths with near populated areas of North America—are actually quite shy, and studies show that they’ll usually hide or retreat rather than defend their cubs against human threats. Not so heroic, black bear mom. Their brown counterparts, however, are a different story. Grizzly moms are much more likely to attack if they see people getting too close to their babies. So, the savage CG encounter that Leo endured is pretty plausible. And he did the right thing by playing dead—if you’re ever in such a situation, all you can do is grin and bear it.

Sagacious | $65-$120

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Who Is The Animal Kingdom’s Best Dance Crew?

April 25, 2016

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Snowball the cockatoo was left at an Indiana animal rescue center with a note from his owner. “Snowball likes to dance to this,” it said, referring to what was also left: a Backstreet Boys CD.

In 2007, Neurobiologist Aniruddh Patel stumbled upon a YouTube video of the bird, who appeared to be getting down to the boy band’s “Everybody.” If this bird were actually grooving to the beat, he wondered, it might have circuits in the brain for processing rhythm similar to ours.

So Patel paid a visit to Snowball and created an experiment to determine whether he was truly dancing—characterized by synchronized movements—or just looked like he was. Patel remixed the song at 11 different tempos, then recorded what Snowball did when his jam came on. For nine out of the 11 variations, he bobbed enthusiastically in sync (no pun intended)—well enough to consider him the first-ever nonhuman “dancer.”

Inspired by Snowball’s fancy footwork, Adena Schachner, then a psychology grad student at Harvard, went back to YouTube and narrowed thousands of clips of animals purportedly dancing to just 39 who seemed to genuinely synchronize. Twenty-nine were parrots, like Snowball, and the rest were Asian elephants, deeming a recreation of Dirty Dancing’s “the lift” highly unlikely.

Boogie Monster Dance Kit | $40

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Macaroni Fashion – Who Wore it Best?

April 20, 2016

No Break Pasta Pot and Strainer | UncommonGoods

If you were a young, upper class Englishman in the 17th or 18th century, chances are you set off on a Grand Tour—a rite of passage trip throughout the continent. In Italy, you most likely would have been served macaroni, and you would have found it delicious. Back at home, you would talk so much about its deliciousness that you and others like you would receive a nickname: The Macaroni Club. On-trend accessories, clothing, and one particularly extravagant wig would be deemed “very macaroni.” Later, Yankee Doodle would stick a feather in his cap and call it such.

So the next time your child brings home the quintessential Mother’s Day gift made in arts and crafts, wear it with pride, knowing you are accessorizing well. A macaroni necklace made of actual macaroni? How deliciously meta.

No Break Pasta Pot and Strainer | $60.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How Many Moms Does an Elephant Have?

April 18, 2016

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Hillary Rodham Clinton may not have much in common with certain elephants, but when she wrote It Takes a Village, she may have been inspired in part by mama pachyderms. That’s because all the female elephants in a herd take charge of the care, feeding, and education of any of the big babies born to their group. These elephant “Allomothers” pitch in to protect and nurture the initially blind calves—an endearing but practical parental system for rearing the next generation. And given that elephant gestation is a 22-month marathon, those other ladies might be grateful for the relative ease of a calf-sitting rotation.

Elephant Family Bookends | $65

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Where Was Hollywood Before Hollywood?

April 11, 2016

41266_4.4.16Although the movie industry has gone global in the 21st century, Hollywood remains synonymous with movie making. But that wasn’t always the case. For almost a decade between 1912 and 1920, idyllic Ithaca, NY was the cinematic capital of the US. Movie moguls of the silent era Theodore and Leopold Wharton came to the Finger Lakes community (initially to shoot scenes for a Western), fell in love with the area’s many charms, and set up a studio near the Cayuga Lake shore. This brought superstars of the day like Oliver Hardy, Lionel Barrymore (great uncle of Drew), and Harry Houdini to town, and also attracted other filmmakers to Tompkins County. With the advent of “talkies,” the industry soon shifted to the West Coast, and Ithaca today is known for the intellectual enclave of Cornell University and for its bounty of farm-to-table culture. But for a few years around the First World War, the town hosted the early heyday of movie magic.

DIY Cinema Lightbox | $15-60

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s the Origin of “Off the Cuff?”

April 6, 2016

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You’ve probably heard the phrase “off the cuff” as shorthand for something spontaneous and unrehearsed. And you might also know that it stems from the pre-twentieth-century practice of performers jotting lines on their shirt cuffs that provided discreet white spaces for perfunctory notes. Curiously, the handy phrase may have been in colloquial use for decades before it appeared in print in 1936. That same year, Charlie Chaplin’s classic film Modern Times (1936) featured a scene where Chaplin’s Tramp writes lyrics on his shirt cuffs, only to have them go flying off once he hits the stage, leaving him to improvise to hilarious effect. The earliest known appearance of “off the cuff” in ink was in a Los Angeles Times article bearing the headline “Directors Turn Back Time, Again ‘Shoot Off the Cuff’” which includes the observation that “Chaplin starts a story with an idea, works out each scene as it comes along.” This nod to Chaplin’s famously improvisational style can hardly be a coincidence in light of his popular film performance of the same year, marking the popular adoption of a phrase that was once, well, off the cuff.

Latitude Longitude Cufflinks | $195

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Uncommon Knowledge: What’s the Matter With Glass?

April 4, 2016

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If you got just one thing from your elementary school science class, it’s the fact that matter comes in three states—solid, liquid, and gas. And maybe you retained the fact that all matter will change states under the right conditions. Water, for example, takes three forms in your kitchen alone: liquid water, ice, and water vapor (steam). Nothing uncommon so far. Class dismissed.

But wait—what about glass? Solid, right? Windowpanes, drinking glasses, and tiny unicorns are all solid stuff that doesn’t go with the flow. But you may have heard that glass is actually a “super-cooled liquid.” A solid theory? Not quite. Glass is, in fact, an intermediate state of matter that your chemistry teacher probably glossed over—an amorphous solid. Informally, the term “super-cooled liquid” could describe the variable states of any kind of matter (like saying that ice is “super-cooled” water). But glass is special, stuck somewhere between liquid and solid. To us, it appears solid in every way, but on the molecular level, it’s not as clearly organized as crystals like table salt or diamond. Kind of like those people who appear to have it all together, but really, they’re in dire need of the Marie Kondo treatment.

Multicolor Ombre Stemless Wine Glass Set | $85

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Where Does Whiskey Get Its Color?

March 28, 2016

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Whether it’s a sweet, smoky bourbon or a perfectly peaty single malt, one of the charms of whiskey (spelled “whisky,” without the “e,” in Scotland) is its warm amber color. But many whiskey drinkers might not know that when their favorite spirit comes off the still, it’s as clear as water. Its familiar, golden brown hue comes from the barreling stage, where the wood used (usually charred white oak) imparts color and complex flavors to the whiskey. In fact, whiskey’s round, wooden home provides it with 60% of its flavor and 100% percent of its color. For certain bourbons, retired sherry or amontillado barrels are re-purposed to impart exquisitely subtle notes to the whiskey. So, next time you raise a glass of the “water of life,” give thanks to the mighty oaks that impart their organic imprint on the spirits.

Whiskey Taxonomy Glass Set | $45

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