The Weekender, October 11, 2019

Happy Friday! 

Before I get to the “future of Now I Know” thing, here’s a quick puzzle — and a true story! — related to yesterday’s Now I Know (and two people with the same birthday). Feel free to reply with your solutions, but either way, I’ll try to remember to share the actual solution sometime next week.

I went to high school with 300 or so others — maybe even more, I really don’t remember. I’m sure I shared a birthday with a few of them. One, coincidentally, was also named Dan. I was born at about 8 AM; he was born on the same day in the same year at about noon. But he was older. How?

“Help guide the future of Now I Know.”

This time of year is a good time for reflection. I’ve taken that to heart and, over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about this newsletter, my dreams for it, and frankly, my fears around keeping it going. The “monetize-via-ads” model isn’t great. Not terrible, but not great. And not really the way I want to go in the future. I’m considering switching to a 100% reader-supported model but need to gauge the level of support I’d be able to get… and I don’t have a great way of estimating that. So, I’m asking for your help: I’d like to know what you’d do if I made the switch. 

Click here to take the two-question survey. The first question describes what I’m considering doing; the second question is just to help me measure current reader support levels. 

I don’t want to bias the survey here so I’m not going to say much about it right now. If I decide to make the switch, though, I’ll explain my thoughts in detail, perhaps more so than anyone would want. (Seriously, I have more than 1,000 words written on the topic already.)


The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: Why You Can’t Perform Hamlet at the Bar — a creative way around a smoking ban that was probably a bit too creative.

Tuesday: How a Cute Cartoon Created a Catastrophe of Raccoons — raccoons are an invasive species in Japan. Here’s the odd way they came to the nation of islands in the first place.

Wednesday: Yom Kippur. No Now I Know.

Thursday: The Birthday Problem — Take a classroom of people, ask them what their birthdays are, and there’s about a 50/50 chance that two will have the same birthday. Here’s why.

And some other things you should check out:

Here are three (or four?) long reads for the weekend.

1) “My Day as the Staten Island Ferry’s Writer-in-Residence” (The Observer, 6 minutes, September 2016). A few years ago, Amtrak offered a writers-in-residence program that I really wanted to apply for, but family and work commitments precluded me from doing so. The idea was simple: they’d pay for your train ticket to and from anywhere, and you’d take the time on board to write whatever you write. I do a lot of writing on the train and that sounds great. 

The Staten Island Ferry — perhaps the only free thing in New York City — is great. You’re on the water, you get a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty, and did I mention you’re on the water? But it isn’t an easy place to write on because you have to disembark when you get to port and the trip isn’t all that long, but one writer decided to try it anyway. She went back and forth all day long, writing the day away. This is her story.

2) “How Two Kentucky Farmers Became Kings Of Croquet, The Sport That Never Wanted Them” (Deadspin, 22 minutes, September 2019). Croquet is a weird sport to begin with. It’s even weirder when the unexpected dominate. From the article:

On a sunny September Sunday in 1982, Mark Burchfield, a 20-year-old tobacco farmer from rural Kentucky, stood in Manhattan’s Central Park, getting ready to take the most important croquet shot of his life.

Mark and his father Archie were one of 32 teams competing in the doubles tournament at the sixth annual U.S. Croquet Association National Championship. Archie already had seven state croquet titles under his belt, but this was Mark’s first tournament. He hadn’t even seen croquet played on grass until the month before; his father’s first time was in March. Back in Kentucky they played a different version of the game on hard-packed clay.

Spectators crowded the waist-high chain-link fence that ringed the courts. Over five days of competition, word had spread of the “Kentucky Riflemen,” with their down-home accents and astonishing skills. Everything about them stuck out: Archie’s burly farmer physique, Mark’s fuzzy mustache and shaggy haircut, their homemade mallets with handles made from pool cues. They were black swans among the white-clad East Coast croquet elite, who had welcomed them, as well as Archie’s wife, Betty, with decidedly muted enthusiasm.

But here they were, in the finals, leading by one point over two of the best players in the sport.

3)  “What Dinosaur Poop Tells Us About Ancient Life” (FreeThink, 7 minutes, October 2019). With a title like that, how can I not share? (It’s legitimately interesting, too.)

Have a great weekend!