From Olympic Bodies To Circadian Rhythms: This Week's Curios

Every day of the year, 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 Olympic bodies, Circadian rhythm hacking, and why black cab drivers in London are the best students in the world.

Curio No. 1109 | Olympic body engineering
In the early modern Olympics, most competitors could easily blend in with the crowds watching them. Not anymore! Spectators will have no trouble picking out 6'11" US basketball player DeAndre Jordan, or 348-lb. discus thrower Mason Finley. They'll also see a hole in the crowd created by the Japanese gymnast Asuka Teramoto, who measures just 4'8" and 66 pounds. Competitors at the 2016 Olympics will be sporting the most diverse set of body types in the event's history. This is because Olympians continue to mold their bodies to fit the precise demands of their sports. Consider, for example, male sprinters. Over time, trainers realized taller and more muscular sprinters are faster because their high center of gravity allows them to fall forward more quickly. Thus, the ideal sprinter body has gone from Jesse Owens's lanky 5'10" to the towering and powerful Usain Bolt at 6'5"... keep reading.

Curio No. 1108 | The trickiest tongue twister
Stretch your tongue before this one. Researchers at MIT have come up with what they believe is the toughest English-language tongue twister in the world. Yes, even worse than "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." Ready? "Pad kid poured curd pulled cold." Say that 10 times fast! There's a long tradition of great English tongue twisters, but they are usually created by poets or writers. This one was crafted with scientific precision by linguistic psychologists using specific syllabic patterns. So what is it that makes "pad kid poured curd pulled cold" so hard to say? It's an example of alternating repetition, where consonant sounds are repeated at the beginnings of every other word... keep reading.

Curio No. 1107 | I've got (Circadian) rhythm
Your email can wait--except for the Daily Curio, of course. That's according to a growing body of research on circadian rhythms and their effects on cognitive work. Most people start their workday by cleaning out their email inbox and dealing with other mundane tasks. Often they don't get to their most critical work until after lunch. Instead, research shows your should do your most important tasks by around 11 AM. That's because most adults experience their peak cognitive states before noon and before 6 PM--thanks to our innate circadian rhythm that elevates memory, alertness and concentration levels. In between these hours the mind is less alert and more prone to distraction... keep reading.

Curio No. 1106 | Kindchenschema
Why do we find some things cute, and not others? Biologists have been pondering this question for decades, looking for any evolutionary advantages cuteness may provide. The most widely respected cuteness research comes from Konrad Lorenz. Lorenz won a Nobel Prize in 1973 for his pioneering work in the field of ethology, or the study of animal behavior. Beginning in 1949, Lorenz outlined the kindchenschema--a set of traits that humans think of as cute. The list includes: big round heads, big round eyes, big round cheeks, and a soft round body. Put all of these things together and what do you have? A baby! Thus, it is now accepted by evolutionary biologists that humans have innate tenderness for big, soft and round physical traits because we are wired to feel empathy for small children... keep reading.

Curio No. 1105 | Inner ear Rogaine
Rockers rejoice! Noise-induced hearing loss, caused by overexposure to loud music or industrial noises, may be reversible. A drug called a notch inhibitor might be able to regenerate the tiny stereocilia hairs in our inner ear that enable our hearing. These hairs can be bent or cut short when extremely "loud" sound waves reach our cochlea or inner ear. So far the new drug has only been tested successfully with lab mice, meaning it should be taken with a grain of salt. But the drug--essentially Rogaine for inner ear hairs--is a promising new approach to noise-induced hearing loss. The market is huge: in the US alone there are 26 million people with hearing loss likely caused by loud noise... keep reading.

Curio No. 1104 | The hardest test in the world
The hardest test in the world? It's not the MCAT (American medical school entrance exam) or the Master Sommelier's Test (international wine certification)--although those are both supposedly pretty difficult. Based on failure rate, the toughest test in the world is called "The Knowledge." It's a test for London cab drivers. Wannabe Black Cab drivers must memorize the names and routes of 25,000 streets within the most complicated and tangled city plan in the world. Then during oral exams, they must rattle off runs--the most direct route from point A to point B--without looking at a map. The area they are expected to memorize covers a 6-mile radius, centered around the Charing Cross train station. The average cabbie has to take the test 12 times before passing... keep reading.

Curio No. 1103 | A beest of beauty
You've got to see them to believe them. Strandbeests, Dutch for "beach animals," are kinetic sculptures made from PVC tubes by the artist-engineer Theo Jansen. In this age of augmented reality and autonomous vehicles, the mesmerizingly lifelike movements of strandbeests are powered by the wind or a gentle push. Strandbeests come in all shapes and sizes. Some look like herds of antelope, others like gigantic undulating fish. But they share a common design element: gears that convert rotary motion into moving legs able to transverse flat surfaces. Jansen started working on his first strandbeest over 25 years ago. Since then he has continually optimized and expanded their design... keep reading.

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