Undeniable Friday: Polarized Fire

Friday, September 29, 2006

It's Undeniable Friday! Every Friday, in addition to an odd little factoid, UndeniableFacts.com gives you a fun puzzle, illusion, or activity to enjoy and share.

Today: Polarized Fire

The effect: Two candles are lit, and after a few moments, the tips of their flames draw slowly towards each other.

The setup: This one's pretty easy! The effect is purely electrostatic, just like the trick where you stick a balloon to your hair. As it turns out, when candles burn, they transfer their static charge to the phlogiston which they release. So if you give the candles opposite static charges (e.g. by rubbing one on a cat, and the other on a dog) the flame's will attract each other.

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Undeniable Fact: Flying Soul-o

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Recent studies make a pretty compelling case that identical twins actually share a single soul. This does a lot to explain some of the seemingly "paranormal" phenomena surrounding them. Of course, if there's an afterlife, this means that twins will manifest there as a single entity.

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Undeniable Fact: The Most Dangerous Name

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

At the 1914 World's Fair, a powerful energy beam was revealed to the public which was believed to be so wildly dangerous that it was given the name "laser", standing for "Ladies and sirs, everybody run."

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Undeniable Fact: Fowl Play

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Of all the waterfowl, the duck has the best traction.

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Undeniable Fact: They grow up so fast

Monday, September 25, 2006

Paleontologists have recently discovered that the tyrannosaurus and brontosaurus were actually the same animal. The tyrannosaurus is merely the larval stage of the larger brontosaurus. This explains their small arms which were previously believed to be vestigial.

This does of course put the nail in the coffin of the idea that dinosaurs were related to birds or reptiles. They were amphibians.

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Undeniable Update: Balancing Spork

On Friday I showed how to make a metal spoon balance on end by aligning its gravitational domains. The same thing can be done with a plastic spork!

I didn't have this up on Friday because plastic, being lighter, takes longer to prepare. If you want to do this trick with a plastic utensil, be prepared to drive for 700 miles.

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Undeniable Sunday Comics

Sunday, September 24, 2006

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Undeniable Fact: A Puppy Saved...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The first ever documented case of animal cruelty in America was reported in 1764. The culprit? You guessed it: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, it seems, invented the sport of Puppy Slander. This barbaric practice continued for centuries after the portly rapscallion's death, and was only recently criminalized by the Animal Dignity Protection Act. The ADPA, incidentally, does not protect stray or crippled animals; a last vestige of Franklin's culture of cruelty.

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Undeniable Friday: The Balancing Spoon Trick

Friday, September 22, 2006

It's Undeniable Friday! Every Friday, in addition to an odd little factoid, UndeniableFacts.com gives you a fun puzzle, illusion, or activity to enjoy and share.

Today: "The Balancing Spoon Trick"

Update: the same trick done with a spork.

Here's another great one for parties!

The effect:
A seemingly ordinary spoon is set down on end. Rather than immediately falling over, the spoon balances and wobbles around.

The setup:
This one takes a little preparation, so make sure and plan at least two weeks ahead. First remove the hubcap on one of your car's tires (kids: get your parents' permission first). Next you need to affix the spoon to the exact center of the wheel. Hot-glue can work, but I prefer duct tape. Replace the hubcap over the spoon, and drive for approximately 500 miles. This doesn't have to be all at once, but make sure that you drive at least 500 total miles before removing the spoon. Caution: avoid backing up as much as possible. For every foot that you back up, you must drive an additional 30 miles forward. Excessively sharp turns may also interfere with the process. If you're planning a road trip through say, Nevada or Kansas, you have an excellent opportunity to set this trick up.

When you perform the trick, simply set the spoon on the end of its handle and bask in the amazement of your audience.

The explanation:
To explain this effect, it is important to first cover the topic of gravitational domains. Every subatomic particle has a specific number of quanta called gravitons which orbit it. The number of gravitons is proportional to its mass. Electrons have exactly 3 gravitons, while protons and neutrons each have approximately 5,500. These quanta are responsible for many of the effects which in classical physics are attributed to "mass". Gravitational force, for example, is not an attractive force between objects based on their mass, but a force between the gravitons which massive objects possess. Therefore, if we can change the positions of the gravitons in an object, we can change the way gravity affects that object.

When you attach an object to the center of a spinning axis which is attached to a heavy load (i.e. your car), a considerable centrifugal force acts on the object. Centrifugal force is, like gravity, dependent on mass. Unlike gravity, however, centrifugal force does not act on gravitons, but on the real mass of the object. By placing the spoon at the center of the axis, the spoon's mass is constantly pulled away from the center. Its gravitons, however, are negligibly affected by the centrifugal force, and tend to stay in the same place, relative to the particles they orbit. As a result, the gravitons realign within the individual atoms, reorienting the gravitational momenta of those atoms based on their distance from the center. This causes the formation of "Gauss domains" - areas in the structure of the spoon which have uniformly oriented gravitational momenta - because the atoms of the spoon which are near each other are, by definition, a similar distance from the axis of rotation, and thus are similarly oriented.

The end result of all of this is that the spoon's distribution of gravitational mass is no longer consistent with its distribution of "real" mass. Therefore, the spoon can be balanced on either end, where the gravitational domains are largest.

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Undeniable Fact: Those little guys have so much heart...

Although displaying negligible intelligence, the shrimp has the most powerful emotions of any animal, including humans.

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Undeniable Fact: This will blow you away!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The original leaf blower, common in the early days of electrical home appliances, was polarized; it mattered which way you plugged it in. In those days, they didn't have the handy size difference between the prongs on plugs like we have today. The plugs were merely labeled "this side up" on top.

Enter dyslexic Joshua Hoover (no relation to the vacuum cleaner company). Hoover, trying to clear leaves from his living room, plugged his leaf blower in upside down, accidentally creating the world's first vacuum cleaner! Sadly, his disability prevented him from applying for a patent.

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Undeniable Fact: Food for thought

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

If it weren't so poisonous, Styrofoam would be one of our best food options.

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Undeniable Fact: A Crime Against Nature

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Some historians believe that the Sasquatch is a result of early breeding experiments between armadillos and raccoons conducted by Benjamin Franklin. In a stunning display of cowardice, Franklin himself claimed that the Sasquatch was merely a Native American legend

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Undeniable Friday: Musical Circles

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's Undeniable Friday! Every Friday, in addition to an odd little factoid, UndeniableFacts.com gives you a fun puzzle, illusion, or activity to enjoy and share.

Today: "Musical Circles, the Coronelli Effect"

This illusion was discovered in 1693 by the renowned Italian psychologist Vincenzo Coronelli while doing research for the Italian government on psychological weapons.

To experience the effect of this illusion, you must quickly look from colored circle to colored circle. First look at 1, then at 2, then at 3, and then back at 1 (repeat). Pause at each circle only long enough to read the number, and then move to the next one. You should begin to "hear" a part of Beethoven's 5th in your head. For most people the effect is not so strong as to be considered "hearing things", but is something like having a song "stuck in your head".

How it works: While the background and middle circle in this image may appear to be filled with random noise, they are in fact very carefully constructed patterns. An analogy would be to think of AM radio. In an AM signal, a "carrier" wave - that is a simple sine wave - is broadcast and is "modulated" - its strength altered - according to the signal being broadcast. This illusion works on a similar principle. As you trace your eyes from circle to circle, your eyes scan over the background, which is filled with a pattern that Coronelli dubbed "syncing noise".

Although you don't consciously see the specific features in the pattern, they stimulate your optic nerves, sending a signal to your brain which is very similar to the kind of information that the brain usually receives from your ears. Some of this signal gets to the auditory part of your brain which recognizes the pattern as sound. In this way the syncing noise can be thought of as a "carrier signal" for your brain. But while your brain recognizes it as a "sound signal", the signal only contains silence. That's where the circle in the middle comes in. The pattern in the circle is actually part of Beethoven's 5th specially encoded as a signal which "modulates" the syncing noise. Your brain's auditory cortex receives the syncing noise and the pattern in the middle circle (Coronelli called it the "phonopattern") simultaneously and and is tricked into partially believing that it is actually hearing Beethoven's 5th. As you repeatedly cycle around the circles, your eyes naturally try to scan the parts they haven't looked at yet. Thus, they slowly drift into the middle of the circle, giving you new data each time around.

Which leaves one last component which I haven't mentioned yet: the colored circles. Obviously you need a point to focus on for steps 1, 2, and 3, but the color of these circles is also very important. When you focus on each circle, it depletes the receptors in your eyes which perceive the color of that circle (which is why the circles are so bright, and is also why you have to pause for a moment on each one). This prevents you from picking up the parts of the signal which are that color, and so your brain isn't flooded with garbled information.

When Coronelli first created this illusion, he used layers of gelatin and dyes to create the patterns. He played a short melody on a violin which was attached to a metal container with the gelatin in it. The vibrations caused the gelatin to raise and lower at different points, and after it had gelled, Coronelli placed a piece of parchment gently on the gelatin. When he removed it, the parchment had a perfect visual representation of the sound. Coronelli had to do this with 12 dyes, playing the melody exactly the same way each time. It took him over one hundred tries, and nearly three months to get it right, and when he presented it to the Italian government, the King was not impressed. Coronelli was arrested and charges were trumped up against him, ending with his execution.

These days, a computer program can generate the illusion in a matter of minutes.

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Undeniable Fact: This one's a hoot!

The European gilded owl is the only bird which incorporates real gold into its plumage. This nearly led to its extinction in the early 17th century, until it was protected by royal decree to preserve its status as the Lithuanian national bird. An adult male typically has so much gold in its feathers just before molting season that it can weigh up to 140 pounds or more and can barely get off the ground.

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Undeniable Fact: Haven't earned their claws yet

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

You may not know this, but shrimp are actually baby lobsters!

Undeniable Sunday Comics: Copapods

Monday, September 11, 2006

Undeniable Fact: A Penny Stolen...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ever wonder where Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac" got its name? The answer is surprisingly straightforward: Franklin stole it from a youth in Virginia by the name of Richard Saunders. Franklin never formally credited the boy who wrote the almanac, and never gave him a dime of the profits from its publication (hence the name "Poor Richard"). Additionally, nearly two thirds of the almanac which Franklin published consisted of pornography. This sheds some light on Franklin's mysterious advocacy of free speech; he just wanted to peddle his smut.

Undeniable Friday: Noisy Neighbors

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's Undeniable Friday! Every Friday, in addition to an odd little factoid, UndeniableFacts.com gives you a fun puzzle, illusion, or activity to enjoy and share.

Today: Noisy Neighbors

This is a pretty cool illusion that has been plaguing scientists ever since it was discovered in 1953. Its proper name is "4D Quadraphonic Optical Noise", but I think that "Noisy Neighbors" is a bit catchier, don't you? Here's all you have to do: stare at the image, and be amazed.


Undeniable Fact: Not so worldwide after all

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The starfish is the only arachnid which cannot produce a web of any kind. The glands are still there, but they have been adapted to aid in maneuvering and ballast. As a result, the glands no longer produce any secretion except for, in a few species, a weak amino acid solution.

Undeniable Fact: Better off without 'em

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The animal with the strongest vestigial appendages is the Australian kicking fish. Its powerful legs narrowly qualify as vestigial because they give the organism no significant survival advantage. Quite the contrary, it is not uncommon for the Australian kicking fish to kick itself to death.

Undeniable Sunday Comics: The Stick Viper

Monday, September 04, 2006


Undeniable Friday: Un-dissolving Dye

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's Undeniable Friday! Every Friday, in addition to an odd little factoid, UndeniableFacts.com gives you a fun puzzle, illusion, or activity to enjoy and share.

Today: Un-dissolving Dye

The effect:
You stir a glass of colored water with a simple wooden stick and, contrary to expectations, the dye and water separate, leaving the water clear, and the dye at the bottom of the glass.

Zipped Download

Wooden or bamboo stick (I used a plain chopstick)
Candle wax (not beeswax; too many electrolytes from the hornets' abdomens)
A pot or saucepan
3 tin cans
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp vinegar powder (or other acidic powder)
1 tbsp baking soda (or other alkaline powder)

The setup:
This requires the use of a stove. Kids, get your parents to help!

Divide the wax into three equal portions. You will be melting three batches of wax, so put one portion into each can. Put enough water into the pot so that the water level comes to about half way up one of the cans. Turn on the stove and wait for the wax to begin to melt. Once it begins to melt, sprinkle the vinegar powder into the can, trying to distribute it evenly. Once the wax has completely melted, and you can no longer see bumps on top from the vinegar powder, dip the wooden stick in several times to get a good thick coat of wax on it. Set the stick aside, and carefully remove the can from the pot (use an oven mitt or tongs!) and throw it away.

Now repeat this process two more times, using the salt instead of vinegar powder for the second batch, and the baking soda for the third batch.

Once the stick cools, your work is done. Try a test run: mix some food coloring with some water and then stir it with your wax-coated stick. It's like magic!

The explanation:
Water is a polar molecule. This means that one side of the molecule has a positive charge, while the other side has a negative charge. Because of this, water can only dissolve other polar molecules. The dye in food coloring is a polar molecule, which is why it dissolves.

The key to this trick is to temporarily force the molecules in the dye to become non-polar. The wax-coated stick does this because the wax is "doped" with three different ionic compounds. The one in the center has a positive charge, while the one on the outside has a negative charge. The result is a material which acts like a polar solution, but whose "molecules" cannot easily turn around.

There's something else I didn't tell you about water molecules: their centers are also negatively charged. Remember, in the world of physics, opposites attract. This means that the water molecules are weakly repelled by the negatively charged exterior layer of the wax. More balanced polar molecules, like those in the dye, are not repelled, and so the net effect is that they move towards the wax. As they do so, their electrical imbalance is satisfied, which means they act like non-polar molecules. As a result, they precipitate from the water, allowing you to separate the solution.

Undeniable Fact: And Bingo was his Name-o

Michael Jackson's financial situation must be worsening, because according to the SEC, he recently sold his pet sasquatch, Bingo.