A Moment of Rediscovery


Last week, I said I had some news about a change I’m making to the newsletter and I’d share this Friday. Sorry, but I’m not ready to share yet — give me another week or two! Instead, though, I have a fun story to share.

Whenever I talk about Now I Know in person, I get the same question over and over: how do I find all these topics? And I always give the same answer: readers send me a lot, but I’ve been doing this for so long that I have a backlog of stories saved up. And then I usually mention, mostly in jest, that I have them saved in so many different places, it’s hard to keep track. 

This week, my joke turned out to be true.

I do, in fact, have story ideas saved up in a lot of different places. I have an Instapaper account with tons of bookmarks, saved threads on reddit, bookmarked tweets on Twitter (er, X), reminders on my phone to look things up later, a running Google Doc of drafts and ideas, and a handful of Post-it notes on my desk. It’s not the most organized system, but it works.

This week, though, something weird happened. Yesterday, while putting the finishing touches on the article I shared, I came across an article about a story I thought I had written about previously. But when I searched my archives, I couldn’t find the story. I looked through my three books, wondering if I had published it there, but again, nothing. I hadn’t written about it, but I could have sworn that I had. I searched my Google Docs drive and found a stand-alone document with four links about the topic (including the article I had just discovered) and two sentences I had written. It’s not weird for me to jot down initial ideas and sources like that, but I almost always do so in my running master Google Doc so I can keep everything in one place. (Or, I guess, everything in Google Docs in that one place.) 

This was a stand-alone document, though. I checked the history of it and I jotted down those notes in 2015, and then I noticed that it was in a folder titled “In Progress.” And in that folder were about 25 to 30 other stories, most of which I had forgotten about. Some of them won’t even become Now I Know stories as there wasn’t much there. For example, one of the documents was titled “Monopoly” and all it had was a link to a brief blog post about the history of Monopoly — you can read that here if you want, but there’s not much there. (And as long-time readers know, I don’t like Monopoly.) But others will, so keep reading! 

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One quick programming note before I jump into the Week in Review: Next Monday, America celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr., and I’ll be taking the day off. I’ll be back on Tuesday, though. 

Okay, onto the Week in Review!

The Now I Know Week In Review

MondayThe Restaurant of Mistaken Orders: An uplifting story that you should read if you missed it earlier.

TuesdayThe Problem with Free Pizza: The problem is lack of sleep.

Wednesday: Nothing to Carp About: A story about gefilte fish, kind of. 

ThursdayThe Glitch That Made Stealing Cars Fun: Video game history.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (Martin Luther King Jr., 25 minutes, April 1963). If you aren’t familiar with this, you should read it.

2) “How Can an iPhone Survive a Fall From a Plane, But Not From Your Pocket?” (Medium, 8 minutes, January 2024). Earlier this week, an iPhone fell from a plane and didn’t break. This author takes a crack at explaining the physics behind the phone’s survival. It looks like the article may be behind a paywall — it wasn’t when I found it — but I think if you sign in, you’ll get access to this for free. It’s not a perfect explanation of the math and the writing is confusing at times, but it’s a pretty good explanation overall.’

3) “The tiny US island with a British accent” (BBC, 8 minutes, February 2018). This isn’t the deepest story, but it was fun!

Have a great weekend!