From the Wikipedia: Tusko

A journey down the Wikipedia elephant-article rabbit-hole, prompted by reader Rob V., left me here.

From the Wikipedia: Tusko

Tusko is a popular name for captive elephants. It is about the least creative thing you could call an elephant besides “Elephanty.” Naming an elephant after one of its most recognizable features is like calling your dog “four-leggo” or your male mallard duck “greeny-head.” Naming your fish “Gil” is still cool, though.

Three elephants named Tusko have managed to overcome the stupidity of their names to achieve great fame, or at least a place on the page dedicated to elephants named Tusko.

The first notable elephant named Tusko was Tusko. Wait, hold on. For the sake of clarity, I will heretofore refer to the three notable elephants named Tusko as “Tusko the Mean,” “Tusko the Now-Tuskless,” and “Tusko in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Tusko the Mean is the earliest example of a famous elephant called Tusko known of by the Wikipedia. Tusko the Mean was known as Ned early in his life, but “Ned the Mean Elephant” doesn’t pop from a circus placard the way Tusko does. Decent band name though.

Tusko the Mean was captured from Siam in 1898, and grew to weigh some 15,000 pounds. That made him about a ton heavier than P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo, and earned him notoriety as the heaviest elephant in captivity. Perhaps it was all the jabs about his weight that finally set him off.

Sometime before 1922, Tusko defeated six bulls in some sort of fight in an arena in Juarez, Mexico. The Wikipedia doesn’t have any details — it’s from the source document — but it sounds like a pretty awful thing to turn a giant, exotic creature into a bullfighter, and also it seems like it’d be pretty hard to convince an elephant to wear those flamboyant bullfighter pants.

In 1922, while on tour through Washington’s Skagit Valley with the Al G. Barnes circus, Tusko the Mean got loose, either because he had been beaten or because he was drunk. He went on an all-night rampage through the town of Sedro-Woolley, destroying some lady’s chicken coop and scaring the bejeezus out of a local doctor.

By 1928, Tusko the Mean had been sold to a Portland, Oreg. amusement park, large parts of which he destroyed during a rampage prompted by a low-flying stunt plane. From there, Tusko the Mean was traded and sold and shipped around in various sideshow acts, and kept docile with whiskey. In 1932, Seattle mayor John Dore, disgusted by the elephant’s condition, confiscated Tusko the Mean and moved him to the Woodland Park Zoo. Finally well cared-for, Tusko the Mean died a year later of a blood clot in his heart.

Tusko in the Sky with Diamonds fell victim to a tragic and stupid science experiment in 1962. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma were interested in musth, a condition unique to male elephants in which their testosterone increases by a factor of 60, they secrete a thick, tar-like substance from glands on the sides of their heads, and they go bats–t crazy and try to destroy everything in sight.

Tusko in the Sky with Diamonds, an elephant at the nearby Oklahoma City Zoo, intrigued the scientists because he had gone on musth in the past. But it was 1962, and science in 1962 apparently amounted to giving test subjects a buttload of acid and seeing what happened. The researchers shot Tusko in the behind with a cartridge-syringe fired from a CO2 powered gun containing enough L.S.D. to get 3,000 people tripping face. The elephant only weighed as much as about 40 people, but the scientists justified giving Tusko in the Sky with Diamonds that much acid because cats and monkeys needed to have a ton of acid before they did anything.

What followed is about the most heartbreaking thing you’ll see in a science journal:

Tusko began trumpeting and rushing around the pen, a reaction not unlike the one he had shown the day before [when injected with a placebo]. However, this time his restlessness appeared to increase for 3 minutes after the injection; then he stopped running and showed signs of marked incoordination. His mate (Judy, a 15-year-old female) approached him and appeared to attempt to support him. He began to sway, his hindquarters buckled, and it became increasingly difficult for him to maintain himself upright. Five minutes after the inection he trumpeted, collapsed, fell heavily onto his right side, defecated, and went into status epilepticus. The limbs on the left side were hyperextended and held stiffly out from the body; the limbs on the right side were drawn up in partial flexion; there were tremors throughout…. The mouth was open, but breathing was extremely labored and stertorous, giving the impression of high respiratory obstruction due to laryngeal spasm. The tongue, which had been bitten, was cyanotic.

It continues like that. Tusko died an hour and 40 minutes after receiving a massive dose of LSD from scientists. The scientists concluded that their findings “may prove to be valuable in elephant-control work in Africa.” Right.

Tusko the Tuskless was born around 1971 and is still alive today in a Portland zoo. According to the Wikipedia, Tusko recently endured surgery to remove his tusks due to infection, which must be reasonably humiliating.

Other than that, though, Tusko the Tuskless doesn’t have it all that bad. He is in the Portland zoo for stud work and has sired two calves with one female, with plans to mate with the zoo’s two other female elephants as well. Before coming to Portland, he sired two calves in Canada and one in California. He is the Shawn Kemp of notable elephants named Tusko.

From the Wikipedia: Tallest buildings in New York

People say real New Yorkers never look up. Seems stupid to me, but I guess I am not a real New Yorker.

From the Wikipedia: List of tallest buildings in New York City.

This city’s skyline is awesome. And I mean awesome, here, in the dictionary definition of the term. New York’s buildings inspire awe. That’s not on the Wikipedia page but it’s true. Find me a city in this country with a more imposing, inspiring skyline. Chicago is close, but New York wins on its sheer wealth and density of tall buildings.

To boot: There are 117 completed buildings in this country over 700 feet tall (not including antennae). New York has 38 of them. That makes sense. Because Manhattan is an island, the nucleus of the city could not expand outwards. Instead, it expanded upwards.

New York City’s first skyscrapers were built in the 1890s, some 35 years after Elisha Otis invented the safety elevator. Those have been demolished now, or overshadowed by buildings that grew in the city’s first high-rise construction boom in the early part of the 20th century.

From 1908 to 1931, five different buildings in New York set new world records for height: The now-demolished Singer Building in 1908, then the Met Life Tower (which now serves as a beacon for Shake Shack) in 1909, then the wildly underrated Woolworth Building in 1913, then the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building in 1930, then the Chrysler Building a month later, then the Empire State Building the next year. This happened to be a really fortunate time for a city to be churning out huge buildings, because everyone knows art deco is right for skyscrapers.

The Empire State Building remained the tallest building in the world until the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were built in 1972 amidst the city’s second skyscraper boom. That era also produced the endearingly ugly Citigroup Center, currently the seventh tallest complete building in the city.

Here’s the interesting part, to me at least: It would seem like, given the cost of living and building in New York City and the trend toward telecommuting facilitated by the Internet, our dedication to making giant buildings should slow. Right? Wouldn’t that make sense?

Not happening, though. Two of New York City’s four tallest completed buildings have been built since 2007 — the Bank of America Tower and the New York Times Building. And if everything goes as planned, by 2016 six of the city’s eight tallest buildings — all but the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building — will be less than a decade old.

Three of the new skyscrapers are already evident in the skyline. One World Trade Center (aka the Freedom Tower), which will top out soon, is already the tallest structure in the city. Four World Trade Center topped out on June 25. One57, which looms over Central Park and piqued my curiosity enough to start looking this stuff up, also topped out last month.

Also under construction, but not yet above ground-level, is 432 Park Avenue. If that building continues as planned, it will be the tallest building by roof height in the city upon its completion in 2016. Why didn’t I know about that until I checked the Wikipedia page? Shouldn’t this stuff be bigger news, than, I don’t know, TomKat splitting up?

And why do we keep journeying upward, anyway? Presumably there’s some better explanation, but I like to think it’s just because we can. Why wouldn’t we want 1,400-tall buildings? And really, if given the option of working from anywhere, who wouldn’t want to set up 70 stories above Manhattan? Have you had the pizza here?

From the Wikipedia: Theodore Roosevelt

The Wikipedia page for Theodore Roosevelt is far too long to thoroughly recap in this space, especially while I’m here in Buffalo and out of my normal routine. Plus it contains lots of politics, obviously, and I don’t want to open the door for a comments-section Ron Paul flame-war. So these are bits and pieces of Roosevelt’s Wikipedia page that seem worth highlighting.

From the Wikipedia: Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States of America. He held the office from 1901-1909, then ran for it again in 1912 (more on that in a bit). He is known, per the Wikipedia, for his “exuberant personality” and “robust masculinity.”

(Is there a better adjective to pair with “masculinity” than “robust?” Vigorous? Potent? Hulking? I’ll take robust. Good work by the Wikipedia there.)

Here are some highlights from Roosevelt’s Wikipedia page:

– Roosevelt was born to a wealthy Manhattan family in 1858. But unlike the uppity pencil-necks the city produces these days, Roosevelt took an early interest in killing and collecting wild animals after obtaining the head of a dead seal from a local market when he was 7. The young Roosevelt learned rudimentary taxidermy and began displaying the animals he had caught, killed, stuffed and studied at what he then called “The Roosevelt Museum of Natural History.” The Wikipedia doesn’t say where exactly this was or how it smelt, or why no one thought it was weird.

– While studying at Harvard, Roosevelt competitively boxed and rowed, edited the school’s literary magazine, and began work on a study of the U.S. Navy’s role in the War of 1812 that is still considered a seminal research work on that war.

– In February, 1884, Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day due to unrelated illnesses. Later that year, he grew frustrated in his political career and moved to a ranch in the Badlands he had purchased on a buffalo-hunting expedition a year earlier. There, he learned to be a cowboy and wrote books about it, and became a deputy sheriff. Three outlaws made the mistake of stealing Roosevelt’s riverboat and escaping with it, so he hunted them down, caught them and stayed awake for 40 straight hours to guard them en route to Dickinson for a fair trial.

– Roosevelt found the name “Teddy” vulgar and called it “an outrageous impertinence.” He preferred to be addressed as “Colonel Roosevelt” or simply “The Colonel.” He achieved that rank during his time with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, during which time, presumably, he developed the military tactic known as “Stop, drop, shut ’em down, open up shop.” That’s how Rough Riders roll.

– After his presidency, Roosevelt went on a safari in Africa with some game-hunting luminaries. They killed or trapped 11,400 animals, including 512 big-game animals. They ate 262 of them.

– During his second campaign for presidential election in 1912, Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a criminally insane New York bartender named John Schrank. Schrank had stalked Roosevelt for three weeks because William McKinley’s ghost came to him in a dream and told him to kill the presidential hopeful. He did not; the bullet went through Roosevelt’s eyeglass case and a folded copy of the 50-page speech he was about to give then lodged in Roosevelt’s chest. Roosevelt knew from his hunting and zoological studies that if he was not coughing blood the bullet had not reached his lung, so he declined suggestions that he go to the hospital and spoke for 90 minutes with blood all over his shirt. The bullet stayed in Roosevelt’s chest for the rest of his life.

– In 1913, Roosevelt — bullet still in chest — was commissioned by the Museum of Natural History to expedition through the Brazilian jungle to bring back uncharted animal specimens and seek the headwaters of the River of Doubt. (Seeking the Headwaters of the River of Doubt, by the way, is almost certainly the title of a forthcoming Sufjan Stevens song.) During the trip, Roosevelt jumped into the river to stop two canoes from crashing and suffered a minor flesh wound. The wound became so infected that Roosevelt grew delirious and at times would endlessly repeat the first line from Samuel Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” Roosevelt even asked to be left behind so the expedition could continue on schedule, but his son Kermit convinced him to remain with the group. He made it home, and after his return the River of Doubt was renamed Rio Roosevelt.

– Roosevelt said a lot of things that were implicitly or explicitly racist and endorsed the forced sterilization of criminals and “the feeble-minded.”

– During his presidency, Roosevelt liked to skinny-dip in the Potomac River in the Winter.

From the Wikipedia: Fan death

This one comes via Devon Edwards. If you stumble upon a strange or interesting or funny or suspiciously exhaustive Wikipedia page, please send it my way.

From the Wikipedia: Fan death.

Fan death, here, refers to “the widely held belief in South Korea that an electric fan left running overnight in a closed room can cause the death of those inside” and not the Vancouver-based synthpop band Fan Death.

According to the Wikipedia, fear of fan death runs so deep in South Korea that electric fans sold there are often equipped with sleep timers that consumers are urged to use for safety. As recently as 2006, the government-funded Korea Consumer Protection Board published a report citing fan death as one of South Korea’s top five most common summer seasonal accidents, claiming that 20 cases of fan (or air-conditioner) death were reported between 2003 and 2005. In fact, per, South Korea’s leading fan manufacturer even prints a warning label on its fans that reads, “This product may cause suffocation or hypothermia.”

About that: It doesn’t. Fans don’t kill people; people kill people. Also, heart and lung disease and old age and drug addiction kill people. Dr. Lee Yoon-song, a professor at Seoul National University’s medical school, has performed autopsies on several of the supposed victims of fan death and found that most of them “already had some sort of disease.” As he explained:

Korean reporters are constantly writing inaccurate articles about death by fan, describing these deaths as being caused by the fan. That’s why it seems that fan deaths only happen in Korea, when in reality these types of deaths are quite rare. They should have reported the victim’s original defects such as heart or lung disease, which are the main cause of death in these cases.

The Wikipedia page features a bunch of other doctors saying similar things. Essentially, fans can not cause death by hypothermia because fans don’t actually lower the temperature of the rooms they’re in and because someone doomed to death in his sleep from hypothermia would most likely wake up long before that happened from the cold and go find another blanket. And fans can not cause death by asphyxiation because they don’t change the constitution of the air in the room and very few non-astronauts sleep in airtight chambers anyway.

Most likely, it seems, South Korea has on its hands one of the greatest and most widespread cases of confirmation bias in recent history, perpetuated, apparently, by the media. People die in their sleep all the time everywhere, for a variety of reasons. When it happens in South Korea with a fan or an air conditioner running, someone inevitably says, “oh no! Another fan death.”

The Wikipedia isn’t clear on this, but I assume many or most South Koreans today realize that fans don’t actually kill people and that the urban legend lives on as an old wives tale and/or a force of habit. This is, after all, the contemporary culture that has provided the world, among other things, delicious food, hundreds of awesome and crazy-ass horror films, a growing appreciation for food bloggers, Shin-Soo Choo and my car.

Plus, every time I swallow gum I consider how it’s going to stay in my intestines for seven years even though I know that’s not true, and I try to give myself time between eating and swimming and I nod knowingly when someone mentions that we only use 10 percent of our brains.

Which is to say that people — or me and maybe some South Koreans, at least — have a weird way of continuing to act like they believe something even long after they stop believing something. In South Korea, it so happens that some people think fans left running in the night will kill you. I, for one, need the white noise.

Oh, where did the urban legend come from? No one’s entirely sure, but some believe it was spread by the government during a time of high energy prices in the 70s. If that’s the case, all blood from fan death is on the South Korean government’s hands. Luckily there isn’t any, because fans still don’t kill people.

From the Wikipedia: The Jersey Devil

Wikipedia Wednesday, for real this time.

From the Wikipedia: The Jersey Devil.

Presumably you have heard of the New Jersey Devils, the hockey team that lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings earlier this week. But if you’re like me, you had never heard of the cryptid from which they got their name until Eric Simon of Amazin’ Avenue alerted you to its existence (or lack therof) earlier this week. And if that’s the case, what a strange coincidence.

Though their are many different variations of the Jersey Devil, most versions and sightings of the legendary creature say it’s a winged biped with hooves that makes a terrible shriek. Think a pterodactyl that walks on two horse legs and has the head of a huge camel. It’d be a pretty terrifying thing to see out in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, provided it existed. It doesn’t though.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Jersey Devil was better known as the “Leeds Devil” after colonial politician and incorrigible yes-man Daniel Leeds, mostly because no one liked Daniel Leeds — sort of the same way everyone in Europe besides the French used to call syphilis “the French disease.” Supposedly Leeds’ 13th son morphed into the monster then killed its mother and escaped shortly after its birth in 1735, but it turns out both Leeds and his wife were long dead by then, and not at the hands of any monster besides human mortality.

Before its breakout season in 1909, the Jersey Devil showed flashes of brilliance in its ability to flummox notable military types. According to the Wikipedia, Commodore Stephen Decatur — the War of 1812 hero for whom tons of stuff is named — spotted a winged creature in Hanover while in New Jersey to check out the forging of the cannonballs he needed for his conquests. Since he had all those freshly forged cannonballs he was itching to try out, he fired one at the beast but it was unaffected by the shot.

Later, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s gadabout brother who was in the United States to sell  jewels he had stolen from the Spanish crown, came face to face with the hissing Jersey Devil while hunting alone on his Bordentown estate in 1820. He was too stunned to shoot it, though, and ultimately moved back to Europe without ever seeing it again.

The Jersey Devil apparently laid low for about 90 years until the so-called “Phenomenal Week” of January 16-23, 1909, its “most infamous spree.” During that stretch, hundreds of people throughout the Delaware Valley reported sightings of cloven footprints in the snow and of the creature itself, prompting enough panic that schools were closed and workers stayed home. Seriously. No one died or got hurt or anything, what with the Jersey Devil not being real, but everyone got freaked out enough to take precautionary measures. And hey, better safe than sorry. Who really wants to be the first to die at the hoofed hands of a cryptozoological horse-bat that terrorizes South Jersey? It’s really a wonder any territory nearby is occupied today.

Alleged encounters that week included a Jersey Devil attack on a trolley car full of passengers in Haddon Heights and one on a social club in Camden. I don’t know what actually happened. Mass hysteria does strange things to people. Remember that just a couple of years ago tons of people in Connecticut reported seeing mountain lions after that one from South Dakota got hit by a car on the Merritt Parkway (cousin Ray has more on the subject).

And in fact, though there has never been quite a run of Jersey Devil sightings like those of 1909 since 1909, people still claim to run into it every so often. Twice there have been supposed corpses. As recently as 2008, there were 10 sightings reported to a local “Devil Hunters” group, which seems primed for its own really stupid reality show.

The Jersey Devil has been referenced, hunted and speculated about dozens of times in film, television, music and video games. Bruce Springsteen has a song about it, obviously.

Also, according to a Monmouth University poll reported on May 20 of this year, nine percent of New Jersey residents believe the Jersey Devil exists. Not Martin Brodeur. The shrieking, leathery-winged biped Jersey Devil. Roughly one in 11 people who live in New Jersey believe it’s out there, terrorizing chicken coops and such.


From the Wikipedia: The Fermi Paradox

Before my vacation last week, I endured some type of writer’s block that started around the end of Spring Training. It feels like it’s subsiding now, but in the interim I decided a good way to force my way through it would be to produce more regular post types here. In the past I’ve generally been wary of getting too locked into any format or schedule for a variety of reasons. But I generally enjoy discussing good Wikipedia finds, so I decided that Wikipedia Wednesday had a nice ring to it and I should start making “From the Wikipedia” posts weekly on hump day. Only then yesterday came and I didn’t get to it.

None of that much matters to you, but if you stumble upon a funny or interesting or bizarre Wikipedia page, please send it my way. It doesn’t need to be as exhaustive as this one.

From the Wikipedia: The Fermi Paradox.

The Fermi Paradox refers to the apparent contradiction between the high probability of other intelligent life in the universe and our wholesale lack of evidence of that intelligent life. It is named for the great physicist Enrico Fermi, who interrupted an otherwise pleasant 1950 lunch conversation with some of his physicist buddies by blurting, “Where is everybody?”

Fermi was awesome at math, so scientists took him more seriously than they did the stoned guys who had been asking the same question since the earliest documented evidence of dorm-room couches. The Wikipedia offers thousands of words’ worth of possible explanations for why we have not seen any evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Some of them make a lot of sense, some of them suck.

The Fermi Paradox hinges on the fact that our sun is one of about 200-400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy and (by recent estimates) 300 sextillion stars in the known universe. 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. So the Rare Earth hypothesis, which suggests that no other intelligent life has developed anywhere in the universe, doesn’t seem to hold up. Certainly the series of longshots that ended in the existence of ABC’s Wipeout were unlikely, but since we know for sure they happened this one time, it seems like they have to be better than one in 300 sextillion. I’ve mentioned this before: This just can’t be the best the universe has to offer and it’s selfish of us to think so. Probably somewhere else, very far away, some other form of being is watching its kind get hit in the junk with stuff on some way, way more awesome type of TV.

Other bad explanations for the Fermi Paradox include the zoo hypothesis and the planetarium hypothesis. The former posits that there are many types of super-intelligent extraterrestrial beings and they’ve all agreed to avoid human civilization until we reach a certain point in our development. It’s basically from Star Trek, and it’s stupid. C’mon. Extraterrestrial civilizations are going to be that advanced and organized without enough curiosity to at least give us a flyby? They’ve mastered interstellar travel and interspecies communication and every single alien is on board with not messing with Earth? I don’t buy it.

The planetarium hypothesis says that the perceived universe is a simulated reality created for us by other beings that appears to be empty of other life by design. Or what if, like, our whole universe is just one cell in an inconceivably large being in a much bigger universe, and that whole universe is itself just one cell in an even larger being in a larger universe, and what if our cells have little universes inside them too? The planetarium hypothesis, again, seems way too self-important. Also, if someone wanted to set it up to look like we were alone, why would they bother creating 300 sextillion other stars?

There are a bunch of really good explanations for the Fermi Paradox too. Most of them boil down to this: We’re almost infinitesimally small in this universe and we’ve existed in it for an almost infinitesimally short time. Also, in terms of interstellar transport and communication, we suck. And we are our only current concept of an intelligent civilization, so all our presumptions about intelligent civilizations are based on a sample of one.

Say some alien spaceship did manage to fly to Earth? What are the chances it would have happened in the course of recorded human history? The Big Bang happened about 13.75 billion years ago, the planet formed about 4.54 billion years ago and human civilization is about 10,000 years old. Dinosaurs dominated earth for 135 million years! It’s way more likely that if aliens ever landed here — multiple times even — all they saw were dinosaurs, and they were all, “oh holy s—, dude, run! They’ve got dinosaurs!”

People say if there were other civilizations out there, we should be able to pick up their radio transmissions, detect their industrial pollution, or observe the light they produce because those are things we do. But maybe they don’t transmit radio waves because they’re advanced enough to know most of what’s on the radio sucks. And maybe they’re past pollution or their version of pollution doesn’t resemble anything we understand, and maybe they don’t even see or exist in the spectrum of visual light. Bro. Bro.

No disrespect to Fermi, but to me it seems pretty silly to wonder why we haven’t observed intelligent life with our pathetic human eyes and technology in the puny amount of time we’ve actually been looking. We fancy ourselves intelligent, and we’ve made it to the moon. The moon. The next closest galaxy is 2.5 million light years away, whereas the moon is .0000000406 light years away. If the Andromeda Galaxy is Florida and we’re walking there, we haven’t even leaned forward yet.

From the Wikipedia: Tetris Effect

I went to the Internet to look up what it’s called when I go to bed and involuntarily start reliving some activity I tried that day. Does no one else get this? If I go skiing, I fall asleep feeling like I’m skiing. Same for if I’ve been on a boat or on roller coasters or, apparently, hiking along the Grand Canyon. I can’t find a specific name for that phenomenon, which makes me suspect it’s not as common as I figured. It seems to be one of many odd features of hypnagogia, the transitional period between wakefulness and sleep.

But the search led me to this. From the Wikipedia: Tetris Effect.

The Tetris Effect refers to when people spend so much time on an activity — like, say, a particularly addictive video game — that it begins to dominate their thoughts, mental images and dreams.

One of the first published references to the term came in 1996, or, as it was better known to Tetris-effect sufferers, . Australian researched Garth Kidd called it, “a tendency to identify everything in the world as being made of four squares and attempt to determine ‘where it fits in.'” In an article for Philadelphia’s CityPaper that same year, Annette Earling described:

Raised pulse rate, tightened stomach muscles, strange dreams, and the squares… ohhh, the falling squares. I saw them everywhere, and when I didn’t see them in skylines or grocery aisles, I had only to close my eyes and there they were behind my eyelids, falling faster and faster as I furiously rotated them mentally.

According to the Wikipedia, the Tetris Effect is not limited to Tetris. Computer programmers pouring over code, rowers and mathematicians have reported comparable experiences — and lord knows the combination of copy-editing, basic html and bizarre hours required by my job on the ol’ prompted some similar strangeness.

The Tetris Effect as specific to Tetris is now known by the term Game Transfer Phenomenon, which is basically exactly what it sounds like. If you ever play a car-racing game for a while then drive a real car, you’re probably familiar.

But the Tetris Effect, as specific to Tetris, has some beneficial effects too. This is perhaps predictable: A 1994 study showed that people who played 12 30-minute sessions of Tetris improved against a control group in spatial skills, specifically mental rotation, spatial perception and spatial visualization.

Also the Tetris skills seem to develop in the unconscious, procedural memory, as opposed to the declarative memory where facts and knowledge reside. A research paper in 2000 “showed that people with anterograde amnesia, unable to form new declarative memories, reported dreaming of falling shapes after playing Tetris during the day, despite not being able to remember playing the game at all.”

And — and here’s where it gets really weird — a 2009 study suggested that playing Tetris immediately after traumatic events can help prevent traumatic memories. The focus on the Tetris shapes prevents people from replaying the trauma in their mind, in turn “decreasing the accuracy, intensity, and frequency of traumatic reminders.”

So if you ever see something really messed-up happen that you think might haunt you forever, grab your nearest Gameboy, I guess.

The Tetris Effect should not be confused with the similarly named but entirely different phenomenon called “L’effet Tetris,” which is French for The Tetris Effect.


During today’s broadcast, Gary Cohen noted that Craig Biggio holds the modern Major League record for most times hit by pitch and that the all-time record belongs to a player from the 19th century named Hughie Jennings. Given the awful news about Junior Seau this afternoon, it doesn’t seem in good taste to make light of Jennings’ Wikipedia page about now, given Jennings’ habit of enduring terrifying head injuries. But it’s a colorful read in old-timey baseball stuff regardless.

From the Wikipedia: Blue

The walls are blue you guys.

From the Wikipedia: Blue.

Blue is a color, but the Wikipedia insists it’s a “colour.” The perception of blue is “evoked by light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 440–490 nanometers.” Basically every different type of color theory — and there are a few — says blue is a primary color, though some don’t call it that. Whatever, that part is boring.

The word “blue” comes from an amalgamation of sources. It came into Middle English from the Old French word bleu, which apparently actually meant blue-grey, which is confusing. That, in turn, may have come from Old High German — not to be confused with an old, high German, sitting around smoking dope all like, “meine hosen sind bleu.”

There are many different words in various languages related to the word blue if not necessarily the color. Ancient Greek did not have a word for blue, which is random, and many languages do not distinguish between blue and green.

A bunch of different chemical pigments can be made to turn things blue. Before synthetic dyes, people needed indigo, which grows in Asia. You’d think that distance would be enough to dissuade people in Europe from having a lot of blue things, but no. Instead they created all sorts of plantations and shipping routes so they could get their hands on blue stuff. Lots of people suffered and died so other people could have blue shirts. People are in general pretty stupid.

A few animals are legitimately blue, like the blue jay and the utterly awesome blue poison arrow frog. But most times people say an animal is blue they actually mean it’s gray, like a Kerry Blue Terrier that hasn’t been to dip-a-pet.

In English, if someone is feeling “blue” it usually means he’s sad. This apparently comes from Greek mythology. Even though the Greeks didn’t have a word for blue, blue is linked to rain, and Zeus made it rain when he was sad. (Worth noting: Members of hip-hop outfit Travis Porter make it rain at the club, but they might also be sad on the inside.)

In German, to be blue means to be drunk. This use derives from — no joke — the ancient practice of using human urine in the indigo dying process. So not only did blue clothes used to cost a ton in money and human toil, they were soaked in pee. Not humanity’s finest hour.

In the Western hemisphere, blue generally symbolizes the male gender. But that’s a reasonably new trend — in the early 1900s, blue was for girls and pink was for boys. This information is massively useful if you ever find a time machine. Don’t go back to 1910 and assume the blue-tiled bathroom at the movie theater is for men. The whole color-coding system is different, brother. Also, there are only like five movie theaters.

Blue is in many flags and has symbolic value in Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. The color has been adopted by various political groups and assorted causes.

Many different companies use blue in their products, logos and graphics, including Old Navy and Long John Silver’s.

The NBA, NFL and MLB all have blue in their official logo. The NHL does not, but it has a team called “the Blues.” The Blues are named for the music, but the music is named for the color. Many sports teams are blue.

The Wikipedia doesn’t say it, but blue is also a flavor. Sometimes companies try to pass it off as blueberry or blue-raspberry flavored, but really it just tastes like blue. The bluest tasting thing is Blue Curacao. Also very blue-tasting are blue Fla-Vor-Ices and the blue type of those 50-cent juices we used to buy at the deli near my middle school. Actually, most blue foods taste pretty blue.

I’m currently wearing a blue shirt and chewing on a blue pen. There are a bunch of blue folders on the desk next to mine. Other things that are blue include: The sky, the ocean sometimes, many types of toothpaste, Frank Sinatra’s eyes, and blue paint.

From the Wikipedia: Action Park

Originally posted Dec. 30, 2009:

Today’s From the Wikipedia comes upon request by multiple readers, but does not aim to make light of the numerous deaths — at least six, according to the Wikipedia — that occurred at the theme park in question.

It does very much aim to make light of the horrible, horrible planning that led to said deaths, and I sincerely apologize if anyone out there lost a loved one due to the carelessness and downright stupidity involved in the creation of these rides. Death due to any circumstance — theme park mishap, bear attack, leprosy, whatever — is tragic and not funny, and please do not take this post to imply otherwise.

From the Wikipedia: Action Park.

Action Park was a water park and motor-themed park that opened in Vernon Township, New Jersey in 1978 and stayed open, against all odds, for 18 years. I’ll quote the Wikipedia directly:

Many of Action Park’s attractions were unique. They gave patrons more control over their experience than they would have at most other amusement parks’ rides, but for the same reason were considerably riskier.

In other words, unlike most theme parks, Action Park made no attempt to idiot-proof its rides. Then, as if to tempt fate, they put it right in the middle of New Jersey.

(That’s not to say, of course, that everyone in New Jersey is an idiot. Plenty of the most brilliant readers of this very blog are from Jersey. It’s just that every place in the world has idiots there, and the suburban New York variety of idiot is a particularly brazen and callous idiot, like the cast of Jersey Shore or 30 percent of the drivers on the Turnpike — precisely the type of idiots that strike me as likely to injure themselves if trusted with their own safety on theme-park rides.)

Oh, and they served beer there. Brilliant.

The Action Park Wikipedia page is amazing. Absolutely, blisteringly amazing. It basically goes into detail about how every single ride contained serious design flaws that led to injuries. It’s far too long to even summarize here.

The best part is that I remember most of them. I used to go with my family about once a summer. On my block, we called it “Traction Park,” though other nicknames listed on the Wikipedia include “Class Action Park” and “Accident Park.”

We called it Traction Park and we went anyway, because no matter how dangerous it was, Action Park was still really, really fun.

The Wikipedia mentions that the Go-Karts were regulated by governor devices which limited their speed to 20 miles per hour, but that park employees knew how to disable the governors so they could race the Go-Karts at up to 50 miles per hour when the park was closed.

I didn’t know that backstory, but I’ll tell you this much: I sure remember that every once in a while, one Go-Kart in the race would be zipping around the track about twice as fast as the rest. No joke. Amazing. My dad got one once. He was terrified, but at the same time really proud to have so handily beaten my brother and me in the Go-Kart race.

Even the mini golf course at Action Park was dangerous. Why? You guessed it: Snakes.

The biggest and best symbol of all that was awesome and ridiculous about Action Park was the looping water slide. A water slide with a loop-de-loop. How would that even work? You’re not harnessed into anything, like you are on a roller coaster. Doesn’t seem to make any sense, right? But it made perfect sense at Action Park.

The Wikipedia claims it was actually operated on occasion, but I never saw it open. And anytime you asked anyone about why it was closed, you always heard the same thing:

“Some fat guy got stuck in there and drowned.”

It turns out that was probably an urban myth, as were the stories that crash-test dummies sent down the tube to test it out came back dismembered. But who really thought a looping water slide was a good idea?

The Action Park people, that’s who.

Some of the Action Park rides are still open today at Mountain Creak Waterpark, but the Wikipedia mentions a “vastly increased emphasis on ride safety,” which I’ll take to mean they’re “incredibly lame now.”