From Degenerate Art to the Mozart Effect: This Week's Curios

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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 the history of neckties, dangerously pure water, and the myth of the Mozart effect.

Curio No. 1137 | Neckties: a history
They say neckties are the wisdom teeth of menswear: they're useless and only cause pain. Which begs the question of why men around the world wear them. There are examples of neckwear starting in ancient Egypt, ancient Rome and the Qin dynasty in China. But the modern fabric necktie began as a wardrobe feature of soldiers. During the bloody Thirty Years' War in the first half of the 17th century, a group of highly skilled and vicious Croatian mercenaries wore red scarves around their necks for identification and hygiene. The French army began using the word cravat--the French word for a Croatian--to describe not just the Croat soldier, but also his blood red neck scarf... keep reading.

Curio No. 1136 | Hitler's "degenerate art" promotion
They say there's no accounting for taste. Even if you are a fascist dictator like Adolf Hitler! A decent painter himself, Hitler set out in 1937 to teach the German public the difference between good and bad art. He ordered the Reich Culture Chamber to stage two massive art exhibits in Munich. The first exhibit was held at the brand new House of German Art. Called the Great German Art Exhibition, it featured classical and realist paintings by traditional German artists. The second exhibit, called the Degenerate Art Exhibition, presented 600 abstract and modern works which Hitler felt were "insulting to German feeling" and supposedly by Jewish and Communist artists (only a handful actually were). It featured artists like Marc Chagall, Georg Grosz, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee--all works confiscated from museums in Nazi-held territory. ... keep reading.

Curio No. 1135 | Frequency lotteries
Cellular phones use the same part of the electromagnetic spectrum that powers radio. As in, radio waves. Which means, just like radio stations, cellular service providers need to "own" certain frequencies to prevent interference. Except essentially every call needs its own frequency. When cellular technology came on the scene in the 1980's, the most obvious organization to regulate the frequencies was the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC). They already regulated radio and television broadcast. After being inundated with applications for spectrum licenses in the early 1980's, the FCC instituted a lottery in an attempt to be fair. They literally pulled numbered ping pong balls from a hopper to determine the winners of spectrum frequencies worth billions of dollars. Actually, the FCC first proposed an auction, but Congress said "no." So From 1986 to 1989, the FCC accepted spectrum applications from any US citizen who wanted to apply. And many tried... keep reading.

Curio No. 1134 | Too pure water
Can water be too pure? There is a longstanding scientific debate whether distilled water is safe for human consumption. Proponents argue distillation filters out dangerous chemicals sometimes found in our drinking water; on the other hand, it also filters out critical nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and sodium. But there is no debate about whether we should drink ultrapure water. That's a definite no. Known in high-tech engineering circles as UPW, it's as close to pure H2O as possible--and it's critical for producing microchips. Chip manufacturers need a cleaning substance that can remove dirt and grime from the microscopic electronic pathways printed into the chips, without introducing new residue. Ultrapure water contains virtually nothing but H2O molecules, so it's the perfect substance for the job... keep reading.

Curio No. 1133 | Beatles-topia
Fifty years ago today, the Beatles played their last concert--at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. But the Fab Four recorded in the studio for four more years, rattling off Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The White Album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, and Let It Be. No big deal! Almost a year after the Candlestick show, though, they were lost and in need of direction. Which is why they almost bought a group of islands in Greece and established a commune. Seriously? John Lennon conceived of the idea. He wanted all the Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, to live on the islands and record there... keep reading.

Curio No. 1132 | Lawnchair Larry's dream
Up, up, and oh no! Cluster ballooning is when brave and/or stupid people attach themselves to a cluster of helium balloons and try to reach the highest altitude possible. If you now have a mental image of Winnie-the-Pooh or the house in the animated movie Up, you've got it about right. The grandfather of cluster ballooning is Larry Walters, better known as "Lawnchair Larry." Walters gained worldwide fame in 1982, when he and his lawnchair took flight in Los Angeles, lifted by 45 helium-filled weather balloons. Walters was a truck driver with no prior ballooning experience. But he had a 20-year-old "American dream" of floating up into the sky, ever since he was turned down by the Air Force for poor eyesight. Walters spent his life savings on the balloons, and enlisted his wife as his "ground crew." On July 12, he took off from his roof with a soda, a CB radio, an altimeter, and a pellet gun... keep reading.

Curio No. 1131 | The real Mozart effect
Baby Mozart? After a 1993 study in Nature found classical music improved children's spatial reasoning, news outlets mistakenly reported classical music could boost children's IQ. This error spawned a craze among educators and parents that society is still cleaning up. Overnight, businesses sprouted up making recordings, videos, books and wind-up mobiles devoted to babies' classical music needs. Not only was this mania based on a falsely-reported story, but the later attempts to recreate the results of the Nature experiment were unsuccessful. Regardless, the mythical baby Mozart effect was born. Subsequent studies have never found an impact of more than 1 IQ point from any particular musical exposure to infants. Another study concluded pop music was actually the best genre for boosting spatial reasoning for children... keep reading.

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