Last week's Curios covered Pokémon lawsuits, repetitive music, and the mental toll of multitasking.
Curio No. 1088 | Pokemon Go-es to court
Catch those Pokémon while you can! Since the Pokémon Go app was released last Wednesday, it has been downloaded over 15 million times -- potentially making it the fastest growing mobile app ever. And it hasn't even been released in Nintendo's home country of Japan yet. Players peering through their phone cameras have wandered into busy streets, churches, shops, museums, armed robberies and even oceans trying to capture Pokémon. Some critics have wondered aloud if this game marks the downfall of civilization. But Pikachu and friends are no strangers to intense criticism. Over the past two decades, Pokémon has been accused of racism, satanism, anti-Semitism, and even racketeering. One class-action lawsuit claimed Nintendo's Pokémon trading cards were a form of illegal gambling more addictive than slot machines. The plaintiffs: four mothers whose children had squandered thousands of dollars on Pokémon cards... keep reading.
Curio No. 1087 | The complexities of caramel
Caramel is more than just a delicious apple coating; it's a chemist's fever dream. After more than a century of research, scientists have identified at least 4,000 chemical compounds in caramel. The compounds arise out of thermolysis, a process that begins to occur when table sugar, a.k.a. sucrose (C12H22O11) is heated to roughly 340°F. As the sucrose heats past this point, it breaks down into its building blocks: fructose and glucose. These simpler sugars then break down into even smaller, more aromatic compounds like diacetyl, ethyl acetate, caramelin, and caramelen. At the same time, the fructose and glucose undergo a process called oligomerization, which results in caramel's signature brown color and sticky texture. All of this means that when you melt down sugar into caramel on the stovetop, you are completing more complex chemical reactions than many drug synthesizers... keep reading.
Curio No. 1086 | The beat goes on and on and on and on
If you stepped outside in 2013, chances are you heard "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. The song stayed at the top of Billboard's Hot 100 for 10 weeks in a row. And with good reason: it was ridiculously catchy -- and ridiculously repetitive. In six choruses, the word "happy" appears 57 times. Maybe Pharrell was reading up on his Journal of Consumer Psychology. One study published there by music researchers at USC found that each repetition of a chorus adds a 17% likelihood that a song will chart in the Top 40. And that's even if we don't really "like" the music being repeated. The psychology is attributed in part to the mere exposure effect, which says that people tend to prefer things just because they are familiar with them. But this general rule, which can be applied to everything from advertising to black coffee drinking, doesn't tell the whole story... keep reading.
Curio No. 1085 | Manhattanhenge
Tonight, at about 8:30 PM Eastern time, the entire city grid of Manhattan will light up with an incredible sunset. Called "Manhattanhenge," the spectacle actually happens twice a year for two consecutive nights, due to the alignment of the sun's position and Manhattan's grid. The pop astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson pointed out this phenomenon over a decade ago. He coined the term as an homage to Stonehenge, which captures unique sunlight of its own on the summer and winter solstices. But while anthropologists believe Stonehenge may have actually been built to commemorate the solstices, the dates for Manhattanhenge are a bit more random. Tyson commented that the dates tend to line up with Memorial Day and the MLB All-Star Break, which could lead future civilizations into thinking we were all about war and baseball.... keep reading.
Curio No. 1084 | Electric confections
Food scientists used to think it wasn't possible to reduce the fat content in chocolate past a certain point... until now. A weird new process opens the door for lower-fat chocolate by allowing manufacturers to bypass the use of cocoa butter during production. Previously, chocolate makers assumed they could only reduce the fat content of their products to about 36%. Cocoa itself does not contain that much fat, but due to its high viscosity, manufacturers have to add liquids -- namely cocoa butter -- to help it flow through factory machines without affecting the taste. Researchers at Temple University found a way to use an electric shock to change the shape of the cocoa particles in liquid chocolate... keep reading.
Curio No. 1083 | Jack of all trades, master of none
Put away your smartphone, turn off the TV, and close the other 25 tabs you have open. If you really want to learn about multitasking, you have to cut out the everyday distractions; they're probably making you multitask, which is not actually a good thing. People who multitask a lot tend to be worse at organizing their thoughts and judging how relevant information is. They also waste large chunks of their day recovering from distractions -- up to half-an-hour every time a task is interrupted. High multi-taskers even struggle to switch between tasks! Most importantly for us Curious students, multitasking makes learning harder. Information gathered while multitasking tends to be more specialized and less flexible, which makes it harder to recall and connect to other relevant ideas... keep reading.
Curio No. 1082 | A touching experience at the art museum
Most of us don't get the privilege of touching the "Mona Lisa" or "Starry Night." But for the blind and visually impaired, there's no other way to experience them. That's why museums around the world have set up tactile galleries with 3D-printed reproductions of their most prized works. At the Louvre, the National Gallery of Canada, the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and several other museums, blind patrons are encouraged to get up close and personal with reproduced classics, in hopes that they will get the same pleasure that other museum-goers get out of seeing the real thing. Given the high standards that these museums have, it's no surprise that making one of these tactile paintings is a painstaking process. First, a 3D scanner captures all the attributes of the painting. Then, preservation experts review the scan for color and texture accuracy. Once they're happy with the scan, they send it to a printer, which spits out hundreds of layers until the surface of the painting is exactly like the original... keep reading.