The Weekender, July 7, 2017

1)  “The Invention of the Slinky” (Priceonomics, 10 minutes, December 2014).  It’s much more interesting than you’d ever have guessed. The story starts off with the invention of the Slinky, as the title promises. That was in the 1940s. Here’s where the story goes next:

Then, in February 1960,  [Slinky inventor Richard Thompson James] made an unexpected and dramatic exit.

With little explanation, he bought a one-way ticket to rural Bolivia, and joined what his wife called “an evangelical Christian cult” somewhere deep in the wilderness.By July, he’d severed all ties and disappeared.

Just before leaving, he’d presented Betty with a choice: she could liquidate the company, or assume sole ownership. She chose the latter.

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3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

And a bonus item: Swedish Lemon Angels — the recipe you don’t want to try at home.

4) “How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Sends You Letters about Your Medical Condition” (Gizmodo, 11 minutes, June 2017).

In the summer of 2015, Alexandra Franco got a letter in the mail from a company she had never heard of called AcurianHealth. The letter, addressed to Franco personally, invited her to participate in a study of people with psoriasis, a condition that causes dry, itchy patches on the skin.

Franco did not have psoriasis. But the year before, she remembered, she had searched for information about it online, when a friend was dealing with the condition. And a few months prior to getting the letter, she had also turned to the internet with a question about a skin fungus. It was the sort of browsing anyone might do, on the assumption it was private and anonymous.

Now there was a letter, with her name and home address on it, targeting her as a potential skin-disease patient. Acurian is in the business of recruiting people to take part in clinical trials for drug companies. How had it identified her? She had done nothing that would publicly associate her with having a skin condition.


5) “Professor Caveman” (The Atlantic, 7 minutes, April 2017). The subhead: “Why Bill Schindler is teaching college students to live like early humans.” Despite the quote below, I’m not sharing this because I think that today’s college students don’t have basic life skills — that’s a debate for another newsletter.

The skills prehistoric peoples depended on seem exotic to today’s college students, who Schindler says arrive on campus each year with less and less of the sort of practical experience that he emphasizes in his class. He tells of the time he asked some students to crack eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. He returned to the kitchen 10 minutes later to find that not a single egg had been cracked. “I asked them if the problem was that nobody had ever told them how to separate the yolk from the whites, and received blank stares in return,” he recalled. “After a minute of silence, one of them said, ‘I’ve never cracked an egg.’ I was floored—how do you even make it to 19 without cracking an egg?”

6) “The Great Super Bowl Jersey Caper” (Sports Illustrated, 32 minutes, April 2017). The subhead: “Two months ago [February 2017] in Houston, Tom Brady’s jersey was stolen from the Patriots’ postgame locker room. The investigation spanned thousands of miles, involved two nations and unfolded against the backdrop of a tense geopolitical drama. And the culprit might never spend a night in jail.”

Have a great weekend!