How To Stumble Into Something Interesting


As long-time readers know, on Fridays — like, you know, today — I do a week-in-review type of thing. Today, I want to share the backstory behind Tuesday’s email. But first, a programming note: I’m taking Monday off. My kids have the day off from school so it’s going to be a three-day weekend for me, too. 

On Tuesday, I wrote about why the ace of spades has such an ornate design on it, relative to the design of the other three aces. When I went to write that story, though, I was looking into something else. Over the weekend prior, I had seen something about the king of hearts. If you grab a deck of cards and look at the kings… well, let’s actually look at them. Here’s a picture I pulled off Wikipedia.  

If you look closely — and I realize that it isn’t so easy to see, but check any standard US deck of cards and you can verify it — the king of hearts doesn’t have a mustache. The other three kings do. And I had stumbled across a tweet saying that this wasn’t intentional; it was a printing error. I started Googling etc. and found this article from the Guardian which said basically the same thing: “The king of hearts is the only without a mustache – but not because of superior personal hygiene. He originally had one, but it was lost in the reproduction of the original design. A similar mistake caused his ax to become a sword.” That was a bit of verification, but it didn’t add any extra context. I had a ton of questions. Why wasn’t the mistake corrected later on? Why did the king of hearts have an ax in the first place (as does the king of diamonds) while the black kings have swords? Why does the king of diamonds face to the side — was that also an uncorrected printing error? Other articles I found were no additional help. 

I was about to give up — and I guess, when it comes to the king of hearts and his lack of facial hair, I did give up. But then I noticed the next paragraph on that Guardian article. It talks about the ace of spades and how taxes ended up giving us the crazy-big spade artwork, as discussed in Tuesday’s email linked below.

Moments like that act as a reminder: I decided to call the newsletter “Now I Know” and now “Now You Know” intentionally — it’s me sharing what I just learned, and therefore, the joy behind the learning. In this case, I think I ended up with a very good story, but just as importantly, I also ended up with a nice moment of learning something new just when I thought I wasn’t going to get that. A win-win, by any measure.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Worst Way to Get People to Watch a Movie?. I haven’t seen the movie, so also, I don’t think the plan was an effective one. At least in my case.

Tuesday: Why the Ace of Spades is So Darn Big: See above.

Wednesday: The Dangerous-Sounding Threat of DHMO: Water, water everywhere, and… really, nothing to worry about. But that’s what makes DHMO fun!

Thursday: The Problem with Space Pirates: If you’re into space exploation — and I hope you are, it’s interesting! — read up on the space telescope that this story centers on. It’s really cool what NASA, ESA, and CSA are trying to do here. On the other hand, if you’re more into pirates — and they’re also interesting! — check out this discussion on why pirates wore earrings

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The Love Bomb” (Atavist, 83 minutes, July 2021). The subhead: “For 50 years, Enthusiastic Sobriety programs have promised to help teenagers kick drug and alcohol addiction. But former followers say ES doesn’t save lives—it destroys them.” Thanks to reader Seth M. for sharing this one. Seth warns that “this is a long article” but that he liked it, and you probably will, too. There’s also an audio version embedded on the page if you prefer to listen.

2) “The American West is running out of water—and Big Oil, of all things, can help fix it” (Fast Company, 6 minutes, September 2021). I’m not sharing the subhead here because I think it gives away the “oh, interesting idea!” moment I had while reading this. Thanks to reader Russell A. for the recommendation.

3) “Has the American-Grown Truffle Finally Broken Through?” (Smithsonian, 17 minutes, July 2021), Thanks to reader Brooke W. for suggesting this story, a 17-minute read about truffles. Like truffles themselves, it may not be something everyone likes, but at the same time, you should be able to appreciate it for what it is.

Have a great weekend! I’ll be back on Tuesday.