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ice hotels / in-refrigerator rooms

in sweden, greenland, québec, and even alaska, tourists flock each winter to hotels built entirely out of ice, and pay big bucks to sleep in unheated rooms on hard beds covered with animal pelts.

spoonerisms / sixing up mounds

an professor at oxford university around the beginning of the 20th century is remembered not for his keen intellect but for his frequent verbal blunders.

origin of the trophy cup / handing it to the winner

winners of sporting events and other competitions often receive a trophy in the shape of a cup. but why a cup? what does that have to do with victory? it may have more to do with an early methodist ritual.

cleopatra's wager / the most expensive meal in history

that fancy restaurant downtown may cost an arm and a leg, but cleopatra once consumed a meal worth as much as several countries, just to win a bet.

the invention of the wheel / the best thing until sliced bread

the wheel, as everyone knows, was invented thousands of years ago to make it easier to move heavy things. but everyone may be wrong: it turns out the wheel may have been invented for much different reasons.

the passglas / precision measure for drinking games

a few centuries ago in parts of europe, a tall, graduated goblet was used for drinking games that tested one's ability to imbibe with great precision.

wine color taste tests / questioning common sense(s)

even experts sometimes mistake red wines for white and white for red in blind taste tests when both wines are served at the same temperature. is our perception of taste linked to color?

hymir's cauldron / thor's goblet-throwing prize

an icelandic myth tells the story of thor's encounter with the hard-headed giant hymir, and illustrates the lengths some people (or gods) will go to for a good supply of mead.

the great cork debate / thinking outside the bottle

the best way to seal a bottle of wine is a matter of debate, more because of aesthetics than function. corks have the historical edge, but plastic stoppers and even screw caps are making inroads.

bhutanese archery / shooting game

the national sport of bhutan is not merely a matter of hitting a target with an arrow. in fact, mischief and spectacle play a much larger role than accuracy.

english female social titles / miss-ing the point

english has an odd set of titles for referring to women: miss, mrs., and ms., all of which have a somewhat dubious pedigree, and none of which is parallel to the term "mister."

pennsylvania dutch / the germans of lancaster county

their language is based on german, not dutch, but that's the kind of confusion that occurs when you try to get to paradise by going through intercourse.

folk etymology / lazing your way to a bigger vocabulary

lots of english words have their current spellings or pronunciations because of misunderstandings; people heard something one way that was actually spoken another way.

mincemeat / the dessert that eats like a meal

pies that contain meat were once the rule, rather than the exception. modern mincemeat may not contain any meat at all, but the history of the pie and its name is full of surprises.

urban monorail systems / the rise of personal rapid transit

new designs for urban mass-transit are far more than elevated trains. some of them provide all the advantages of a taxi and a subway, with fast, individualized, point-to-point service.

carbon sequestration / greenhouse gas disposal techniques

the world can't seem to reduce its production of carbon dioxide, which has been implicated in global warming. but maybe there's another solution: storing all those excess greenhouse gases in a safe place.

memetics / the science of idea propagation

the way beliefs spread from one person to another resembles, in some ways, the way a virus spreads. a modern theory of idea epidemiology casts new light on religions, fads, political movements, and more.

intaglio printing / duplicating under pressure

for the highest quality large-scale printing possible with current technology, use the technique that carved out a niche for itself in paper currency.

sea monkeys / new life for an old fad

instant life! just add water! sea monkeys are back, but brine shrimp still don't make particularly good pets. sneaky marketing strikes again.

fleur de sel / the last word in gourmet salt

one of the world's rarest and most expensive kinds of salt comes from the sea, but has a very special method of harvesting.