Hi! Today is Friday the 13th, and I have something I share every Friday the 13th, but first, I wanted to talk about Monday’s email — or more accurately, something I didn’t include in Monday’s email.
The Monday newsletter was titled “Grapefruits: The Nuclear Fruit?” and I’m not going to re-tell the story here; if you missed it, click through to read it. What I am going to talk about is the question mark at the end. There’s an adage known as “Betteridge’s law of headlines” which states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no'” — and I think this is a good example of the adage in action. Grapefruit are not radioactive, as the title implies. I took some creative license with the headline, as I think I’m allowed to do. No one wrote in to object to that, at least.
But a lot of you wrote back to tell me that bananas actually are radioactive. And — I knew that. In fact, I wrote about it in 2010. Here’s what I wrote back then (in the bonus fact):
Bananas are radioactive. Specifically, the potassium they contain is actually a rare radioactive isotope thereof. The radiation is at low enough levels where it is not very dangerous, to say the least: eating 2,000 bananas will have the same toll on your lifespan as smoking one and a half cigarettes, per Wikipedia. That said, the amount of radioactivity is real and measurable, so much so that bananas have been known to set off false alarms at U.S. ports looking for smugglers of nuclear materials.
I should have brought that fact forward again on Monday, but I didn’t because I thought I had recently. As a friend of mine texted me recently, “time is all a mush in my brain,” and while she was talking about herself, that’s true for me, too. I honestly thought I shared that fact a few months ago or maybe in early 2022/late 2021. I was off by more than a decade. So I thought you all had already seen it. But, nope; it’s probably new to you. (The main story at that link is about how the bananas we eat today aren’t the same bananas our parents/grandparents ate; you may want to click through to read that.)
Thanks to everyone who wrote in; you inspired me to re-share the fact above.
And now, I’m going to re-share another one — about Mr. Rogers and Friday the 13th. Friday the 13th is, supposedly, bad luck in some areas of the world, most notably in English-speaking countries. In Spanish-speaking countries, the superstition is around Tuesdays that fall on the 13th of the month, and in Italy, Friday the 17th is apparently bad mojo. But it’s really all bunk — and if you’re a kid who was born on the 13th, it can be a not-fun thing. Imagine celebrating your birthday and it’s Friday the 13th; you’re basically guaranteed to have some numbskull talk about how you’re going to have a terrible birthday. And imagine if you were born on Friday the 13th. It’s like being told you’re a bad luck charm.
But Mr. Rogers, who always did right by kids, came up with a brilliant solution, as I shared in 2015: he created a character called King Friday (seen above) and made his birthday Friday the 13th. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired live, and if it aired on Friday the 13th, they had a little party for King Friday. Instead of treating the day like a curse, he found a way to make kids with birthdays that day feel a little bit more special.
The Now I Know Week in Review
I just realized that three of the four headlines this week end in a question mark, so I guess I’m tempting fate with Betteridge’s law, huh? That’s a coincidence, I promise.
Monday: Grapefruits: The Nuclear Fruit?: Not radioactive, no. But made with nuclear technology, I guess?
Tuesday: The Littlest Big Winner?: I actually think the answer to this question is “yes” or close enough to a “yes” where Betteridge’s law fails. Had I titled it “The Biggest Little Winner?” it’d be even closer to a “yes.” So Betteridge’s law fails here.
Wednesday: America’s Secret, Tasty World War II Weapon?: I don’t think it was actually a “secret” weapon, and I don’t think it was actually a “weapon” so I guess Betteridge’s law succeeds here: the answer is actually “no.”
Thursday: Why Chickens Wear Sunglasses: The original title for this (as seen on the page if you click through) is “Seeing Red in the Hen House” but I figured I’d use a more catchy one this time. Unfortuantely, I got it a bit wrong; it should be “Why Chiickens Wore Sunglasses,” as the red shades are no longer in use.
And some other things you should check out:
Some long reads for the weekend:
1) “Math Explains Likely Long Shots, Miracles and Winning the Lottery” (Scientific American, 8 minutes, February 2014). The Mega Milions jackpot is at an absurd $1.3 billion tonight (and again, if you play, I hope you win, and if you win, I hope you share). Reader Jeff J., a few weeks ago, shared this article with me; the subhead is “why you should not be surprised when long shots, miracles and other extraordinary events occur—even when the same six winning lottery numbers come up in two successive drawings.” I think it’s a good read for right now.
2) “How Over 25 People Got Scammed Into Working At A Nonexistent Game Company” (Kotaku, 12 minutes, July 2019). Smoething in the back of my head says I’ve shared this already, but I can’t find where, so I’m going to trust my searches more than my subconscious and share it today. I hope it’s not a re-run.
3) “How do you pick the perfect concert piano? Inside the Royal Conservatory’s $300,000 bet” (The Globe and Mail, December 2022). Here’s the quote that spoke to me, because I was definitely one of the people who thought all grand pianos are basically the same: “Hardly anyone understood how daunting it was to choose a new concert grand. Most people thought all grand pianos were alike, but it wasn’t true: there were good pianos, and there were great pianos, and then there were a tiny handful of truly exceptional pianos. When you were spending a few hundred thousand dollars of a donor’s money on an instrument that was going to be played by the best and most demanding pianists in the world in front of thousands of paying customers, you wanted to make sure you found a piano no one else had.”
Have a great weekend!