From Da Vinci to Bobby Fischer: This Week's Curios

<em>Every day of the year, Curious.com CEO Justin Kitch writes a quirky fact, known as the Daily Curio, intended to tickle th
Every day of the year, Curious.com CEO Justin Kitch writes a quirky fact, known as the Daily Curio, intended to tickle the brains of lifelong learners everywhere. This is a weekly digest.

Last week’s Curios covered Da Vinci’s notebooks, the first chatbot, and a way to make chess even more complicated. Plus, a new Mindset Curio from Dr. Carol Dweck.

Curio No. 1214 | Da Vinci’s code

Leonardo Da Vinci is literally the dictionary definition of a “Renaissance man.” His insatiable curiosity for topics from architecture to music to naval warfare was amazing—even for members of the Curious Nation. If you don’t believe me, visit London’s British Museum to see some of the over 7,000 surviving pages of his notes. Except there’s one problem: he wrote not only in Italian, but using mirror writing. That’s where the pen moves from right to left across the page, and all the letters are transposed across the vertical axis. So d’s are b’s and vice versa. Some historians believe Da Vinci purposely wrote this way to make it hard for the Vatican to observe his ideas—many of which were considered heretical at the time. Others believe it simply helped him avoid smudging ink, since he was left handed... keep reading.

Curio No. 1213 | The Heidi Bowl

Football fans tuning into tonight’s NFL game on NBC, between the Panthers and the Saints, better hope history doesn’t repeat itself. That’s because 48 years ago on today’s date, NBC cut from the thrilling finish of an NFL game to show a made-for-TV movie. To be fair, it wasn’t just any movie—it was Heidi, the heartwarming story of an orphaned Swiss girl. Nevertheless, NBC had reserved the hours of 4 to 7 PM EST for the game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets, with Heidi to begin promptly at 7. Their reasoning: no NFL game broadcast on NBC had ever run over three hours. But that night the clock struck 7 on the East Coast with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter. The Raiders were down by three and threatening to score when the broadcast abruptly cut to the opening credits of Heidi... keep reading.

Curio No. 1212 | How does that make you feel?

Long before Siri and Amazon Echo, there was ELIZA. The grandmother of all chatbots, ELIZA was created in 1966 to demonstrate the limitations of “artificial intelligence” to the general public—even though it ended up having the opposite effect. ELIZA’s inventor, an MIT computer scientist named Joseph Weizenbaum, believed humans unwisely formed bonds with their machines that computers could never live up to. In particular, he believed humans communicated contextually, a concept that a computer could not possibly understand. To prove it, he wrote up a tidy computer program that could respond to written input by mimicking a Rogerian psychotherapist. (That’s the kind that asks you, “Hmm mmm, and how does that make you feel?”) Eliza was extremely limited in her responses and relied on keywords in the written input to create her next comment. But that wasn’t a problem for the people who talked to her... keep reading.

Curio No. 1211 | Radioactive quackery

Talk about a healthy glow. A popular over-the-counter drug in the early 1900s, called Radithor, was highly radioactive. Radithor combined distilled water with traces of Radium-226 and Radium-228. The solution was said to cure all sorts of illnesses, from fatigue to impotence, thanks to marketing which claimed radium had killed some cancer cells. In fact, it was giving people radium poisoning. Take Eben “Foxy Grandpa” Byers. The president of a major steel company in Pittsburgh, Byers was convinced to try Radithor by his doctor for pain from an arm injury. Foxy Grandpa loved the drug so much that he consumed three bottles a day for three straight years! He didn’t notice anything was wrong until his teeth started falling out... keep reading.

Curio No. 1210 | Randomizing chess

Ever wish chess were a little more complicated? Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest chess players of all time, did. In 1996 he created Fischer Random Chess to make chess more about creativity and talent, not memorization. Fischer Random Chess, as the name implies, is normal chess except the starting position of all the pieces is randomized. There are only two restrictions: the King must be flanked by the Rooks, and the Bishops cannot start on the same-colored squares. This results in 960 different ways the pieces can be arranged. Hence, people nicknamed Fischer’s invention as Chess960. Fischer believed chess needed to change because players were simply memorizing dozens of “openings.” He argued this effectively made games “prearranged.” Fischer’s new rules encouraged creativity and on-the-fly thinking from the first move—skills normally not required until mid- or late-game... keep reading.

Curio No. 1209 | The praise malaise (SMC #5)

We all love being told we’re a “born genius” or “naturally talented.” This is called person praise. And it can be poison. It reinforces a fixed mindset view of our self, and can do serious harm to the trajectory of our life. Why do we worship the idea that our prized abilities are naturally born? Shouldn’t we be proud of skills we’ve worked to develop? For the ways we’ve made ourselves extraordinary? Society teaches us heroes have supernatural powers and superhuman talents. But to me, real heroes aren’t just born that way. They develop their awesomeness by overcoming obstacles, working harder, and achieving more. That’s the process of growth. And it’s what we should want people to appreciate about us.... keep reading.

Curio No. 1208 | Alien entered politics (STC #63)

Take the letters of the bolded phrase below and rearrange them to form a phrase that completes the sentence: The visitor from Remulak took a lot of interest in our Earthly affairs, but when the ALIEN ENTERED POLITICS, we knew we'd have trouble at the next... keep reading.

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