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From Pumpkin Spice to Pill Colors: This Week's Curios

Last week's Curios covered the history of the PSL, why older siblings are smarter, and how pill color affects effectiveness.
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Last week's Curios covered the history of the PSL, why older siblings are smarter, and how pill color affects effectiveness.

Curio No. 1179 | The pumpkin spice conspiracy
It's October, which means here in the US it's pumpkin spice latte season! As we learned in Curio #523, pumpkin spice lattes don't contain any actual pumpkin, just a mix of "character impact compounds" also known as artificial flavorings. Starbucks has since added a small amount of pumpkin puree to the pumpkin spice syrup--presumably after the bad press from Curio #523? But Starbucks almost didn't create what they now humbly call "more than just a beverage, a harbinger of the season." In 2003, Starbucks conducted lengthy focus group sessions with the goal of developing a new seasonal drink for fall. Tasters were given several "flavor profiles" to riff on, including slices of pumpkin pie chased with espresso. But two other flavor pairings won out in taste tests: chocolate caramel and cinnamon spice... keep reading.

Curio No. 1178 | The human pecking order
You think birth order has affected your life? For some animals, it is a life-or-death matter. Take the greater ani, a type of cuckoo bird. First-born greater ani chicks are extremely likely to be killed by their nest founders. And the youngest chicks tend to starve because they have to compete with their older nestmates for food. So for greater anis, it's good to be the middle child! But what about humans? Actually, there's some evidence birth order does affect human development. A study of 250,000 Norwegians concluded lower IQs were correlated with participants who had more older siblings. The difference was only a few IQ points, but the sample size is convincing. Of course, we members of the Curious Nation are concerned with CQ not IQ, right?... keep reading.

Curio No. 1177 | Modern art moon
Modern art on the moon? According to the sculptor Forrest Myers, there is. He claims he successfully smuggled a miniature "museum" onto the landing craft for the Apollo 12 mission--which remains on the moon to this day. The "museum" is a ¾" x ½" ceramic chip, featuring tiny sketches from Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, David Novros, John Chamberlain, and Myers. Myers paid an unidentified employee at Grumman--the contractor that built the launch pad--to affix the chip to one of the legs of the Apollo 12 descent module. Since the chip was placed without NASA's knowledge, and Myers' confederate remains a secret, nobody can verify his story... short of combing the moon for a tile the size of a quarter. But two of the artists, Oldenburg and Chamberlain, have separately confirmed their involvement in the project... keep reading.

Curio No. 1176 | All hook, no lyric
What do Britney Spears' "Oops! I Did It Again," the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way," and Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" all have in common? All three hit songs were written by the same middle-aged Swedish guy. Karl Martin Sandberg, better known by his nom de plume Max Martin, has penned more #1 hit songs than anybody in history except Paul McCartney and John Lennon. He has 22 and counting! Martin's songs are heavy on the poppy hooks and short on cerebral lyrics. In all fairness, it's tough to write poignant, emotional lyrics to pop melodies in a foreign language. Which may explain why, if you inspect the lyrics to virtually all of his #1 hits, you'll find some questionable lines. For example, here's Ariana Grande's recent hit "Break Free"... keep reading.

Curio No. 1175 | The black legend of Columbus
It's Columbus Day here in America. You probably know Columbus wasn't such a great guy. He introduced slavery into the New World, ruled his colonies with an iron fist, and was responsible for the killing of thousands of indigenous people. Plus his two most oft-cited accomplishments--discovering America and proving that the Earth wasn't flat--were accomplished by others before him. So you can see why many Americans (myself included) think we should get rid of Columbus Day altogether. But hold the phone! Some (mostly Spanish) historians are convinced that Columbus, for all his faults, has been the victim of a terrible smear campaign. They call it the black legend--supposed atrocities dreamed up by English, Italian, German, Dutch, and French historians who were jealous of Spain's success during the colonial era. According to the black legend, Spaniards were lazy, cruel, ignorant, and bigoted. This conspiracy theory was started by a 19th-century Spanish writer named Julián Juderías, eventually making its way into history textbooks.... keep reading.

Curio No. 1174 | You are washing your hands all wrong
Handwashing is a big deal. It's the number one way to prevent the spread and contraction of disease. Unfortunately, you are probably doing it wrong. A new study found the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) three-step method ineffective compared to the one taught by the World Health Organization (WHO). The CDC method is simple: apply sanitizer, rub palms together, and rub until dry. It's probably the way you wash your hands. The WHO method is like overkill in comparison. After you get your hands wet with water and soap or sanitizer: (1) rub your palms together; (2) rub your right palm over the back of your left hand while interlacing fingers, then reverse; (3) rub palm to palm again, with interlacing fingers this time; (4) rub the backs of your fingers against the opposing palms with interlocking fingers; (5) clasp and rotationally rub each thumb; (6) rotationally rub each palm with your fingertips. Yikes!... keep reading.

Curio No. 1173 | Red or blue pill?
Red pill or blue pill? That's the famous choice Morpheus gave to Neo in The Matrix. The red pill meant living awake, in "the truth of reality." The blue pill meant living a painless dream, in the Matrix. It seems the pharmaceutical industry should be paying close attention to Hollywood. Recent studies have shown that people now think of red pills as stronger than blue pills, regardless of their contents. One study literally reproduced The Matrix experiment. Students were asked to choose between receiving a sedative or stimulant. Then, they were given either a blue or pink placebo. Students who received blue pills felt more drowsy and less alert--despite having ingested the same sugar tablet as those who chose the pink pill. Scientists think this color-coded drug effect actually has a rainbow pattern. European and North American brains think reds and oranges are stimulants, yellows are antidepressants, greens are anti-anxiety, and blues are sedatives... keep reading.

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