From Tug of War to Excel Errors: 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 the Million Dollar Homepage, the origin of Auto-Tune, and an Excel mistake with international implications.

Curio No. 1172 | Mississippi River tug of war
Pull! For 31 years, two US towns have held a tug of war competition across the banks of the Mississippi River. On one side: Port Byron, Illinois. On the other side: LeClaire, Iowa. Each side fields 11 teams: 10 male squads, with 20 members each; and one female squad, with 25 members. Then, for five hours, they shut down all river traffic while the teams battle it out. Each matchup takes three minutes. The "Tug Fest" started as an argument between bars on either side of the riverbanks. But over the years it developed into a war between the states of Iowa and Illinois. Hawkeyes vs. Illini. Field of Dreams vs. Air Jordan. Corn vs. deep dish pizza. (I'm exhausting my stereotypical knowledge of those two states.) The winner receives an apt-named trophy called the Alabaster Eagle in Flight, plus all important bragging rights. The matchup hasn't even been close... keep reading.

Curio No. 1171 | The million dollar homepage
As far as get-rich-quick schemes go, this one is pretty charming. In 2005, a 21-year-old British student named Alex Tew bought with the goal of generating enough advertising revenue to pay his way through college. His idea was simple: he would divide the main (and only) page of into 10,000 "plots" of virtual real estate; each plot being a 10-pixel by 10-pixel square. He would then sell the plots to advertisers for $1 a pixel, who were free to place whatever graphic they wanted in that space. He promised not to take the site down for at least five years. The gimmick was interesting enough to garner some press. The price was low enough to attract some early advertisers, spurred on by Tew's friends and family, who made initial ad purchases to show demand. Things really took off when it went viral... keep reading.

Curio No. 1170 | A perspiration misperception
We all know the biological benefits of sweat: you get hot, you sweat, you cool down. But it turns out temperature control is just one of sweat's many crucial functions. Our body is covered with two to four million eccrine and apocrine sweat glands. Eccrine sweat glands function as the body's main A/C unit, expelling water and sodium chloride to keep our body temperatures constant. They also play a large role in healing wounds! Apocrine glands also contribute to thermoregulation, and the fatty material they secrete is responsible for your funky smell (see Curio #421). Even more interesting--are you ready for this?--your apocrine glands also determine the consistency of your earwax. ... keep reading.

Curio No. 1169 | Get angry, rule the world
This should make you mad. Angry people appear to have a creative advantage over sad people. A recent study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found angry participants solved problems from a more creative perspective than sad participants. They also contributed more ideas in a group problem-solving session. Psychologists have been telling us about the benefits of releasing anger for a long time. According to the APA, anger may lead to better business negotiations. Anger can also signal one's passion for a subject, causing others to comply with the angry person's wishes. ... keep reading.

Curio No. 1168 | Hitting black gold... with Auto-Tune
Auto-Tune is the audio software effect that magically keeps vocals in tune. And sometimes makes singers sound like robots. But what started as a time-saving trick for recording engineers has become the most popular vocal effect in pop music. Some artists like T-Pain and Bon Iver have turned it into a big part of their "sound." Its robotic sheen can also be heard on the recordings of Justin Bieber, Drake, and even (probably) Adele. But would you believe this magic voice-fixing software came from the oil industry? Andy Hildebrand, the inventor of Auto-Tune, says the algorithms of his technology can be traced back to when he was a petroleum engineer at Exxon.... keep reading.

Curio No. 1167 | Got (cockroach) milk?
What's the next superfood craze? Cockroach milk. A study in the International Union of Crystallography recently made waves in the foodie world by claiming a "single crystal of cockroach milk is estimated to contain more than three times the energy of an equivalent mass of dairy milk." It turns out cockroach milk is crazily nutrient-dense, although scientists do not recommend drinking it. It is probably safe--one of the researchers unscientifically said he tried it and it had "no particular taste." But further tests are needed to ensure it's okay for mass production and consumption. Actually, the scientists who wrote the paper weren't looking for the next Greek yogurt. They were studying photographs of the crystalline structure of cockroach milk.... keep reading.

Curio No. 1166 | Wrapped around Excel's axle
Spreadsheet "bugs" are a problem for most data-crunching people. But most of them are not world-renowned Harvard economists using their Excel models to justify highly partisan theories. That's exactly what Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff were doing, though. They released a paper that spawned a global movement to reduce national federal debt, only to realize their fundamental conclusions were based on a serious Excel blunder. In essence, they accidentally "hid" five rows in their Excel spreadsheet that contained GDP data from 5 of the 19 nations in their study. Reinhart and Rogoff's key claim was that when countries reached a gross government debt equal to 90% of their GDP they hit a tipping point which caused annual economic growth to start decreasing every year. The Reinhart-Rogoff paper was music to the ears of "deficit hawks" around the world.... keep reading.

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