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pastrami / cure for the common deli

the world’s first delicatessen came into existence in the late 1800s thanks to a new kind of cured meat known as pastrami. but the exact nature of pastrami is open to interpretation.

piñatas / history of a breakthrough

the piñata may be a staple of children's birthday parties in north america, but it apparently originated in china. or maybe africa. ask marco polo.

modern mummies / resurrecting the art of arrested decay

mummification may have gone out with the pharaohs, but a new, modern mummification process aims to restore its popularity. you can even have your pet mummified for eternity.

demosthenes' stones / improving your diction, athenian style

the greek orator demosthenes overcame a severe speech impediment by forcing himself to speak with stones in his mouth.

the s curve / what is wrong with success?

after someone acquires a certain level of expertise, further development of a skill seems to drop off dramatically. can this phenomenon, known as the s curve, be overcome?

perpetual motion machines / the endless quest for free energy

over the centuries, countless people have tried to create perpetual motion (or over-unity) machines, in defiance of the laws of thermodynamics. so far, physics is holding its own.

propeller beanies / the story of the geek's icon

the little beanies with plastic propellers on top have become iconic (in america, at least) of science fiction fans and techie nerds of all kinds. but the cap's inventor never got the credit he deserved.

the hurdy-gurdy / violin, bagpipes, and kazoo combined

a musical instrument that's quite odd by today's standards, the hurdy-gurdy was quite popular for accompanying dancing in the medieval period. and it's making a bit of a comeback.

the story of doughnuts / the truth, the hole truth . . .

when and how doughnuts were invented (and how they got their name) is the subject of some disagreement. people also disagree about where to get the best doughnuts in san francisco, but i'm doing my best to answer that question.

sedona's energy vortexes / the world's most popular invisible tourist attraction

the town of sedona, arizona is best known for several so-called energy vortexes that are supposedly sites of increased energy. they may or may not promote health and spiritual development, but they certainly promote tourism.

the globe theatre / shakespeare's ideal venue, then and now

shakespeare's famous globe theatre, originally built in 1599, bares little resemblance to what most people think of as a theater today. a replica, made as historically accurate as possible, was built in london in 1996.

walloon / green bay and the french connection

what's the connection between belgium and green bay, wisconsin? it's not cheese, but a little-known language called walloon.

bahasa indonesia / the complex story of a simple language

the official language of indonesia has been called an artificial language, but that's not quite correct. nevertheless, it has undergone several significant transformations, some of which were artificially guided.

linguistic categories / women, fire, and dangerous things

most languages have one or more mechanisms of dividing nouns into groups that express meaningful categories for the language's speakers. some of these groupings yield insights into subtle cultural and mental processes.

pittsburghese / america's most underappreciated dialect

residents of pittsburgh, pennsylvania (and its surrounding area) have their own distinctive dialect of english called pittsburghese.

scruples and stones / a pebble for your thoughts

the words scruple and stone can both refer to units of measurement, and their metaphorical meanings intersect with those concrete meanings in interesting ways.

the equation of time / when what you mean is not apparent

everyone knows that a day has 24 hours, but if you base your measurement on the position of the sun, that figure could vary by as much as 16 minutes over a year. the equation of time compensates for this irregularity.

quantifying despair and depression / keep swimming

you may feel more happy or more depressed from one day to the next, but how might one go about measuring a person's level of despair or depression? several clinical tools attempt to address this tricky question.

the truth about bananas / fingering the world's most popular tropical fruit

america's favorite fruit comes from an herb, not a tree. the life cycle of this plant, and the working conditions of the people who harvest its fruit, are among the little-known facts about bananas.

the unknown woman of the seine / breathing new life into a mystery

a mask allegedly made from the face of a woman who drowned in paris near the beginning of the 20th century created intrigue, sparked fashion trends, and influenced the design of first aid training equipment.