Monday, December 17, 2012


MISINFORMATION #1:  Quicksand will suck you under.

In movies and cartoons, if the characters walk into quicksand, they get sucked down, kind of like being sucked down a drain.  But this is not really how quicksand works.  What makes sand into quicksand is that there is a whole bunch of water in it, like from a spring underneath it.  So then the sand won't support the weight of the person or cow or truck or whatever went in there, and the more you struggle to get out, the deeper you sink.  So if you get swallowed up by quicksand, it's your own fault and not the fault of the sand sucking you down.

Anyway, if you happen to find that you have wandered into some quicksand, here's what you should do:  dial 911 and wait for help to come.  Or send Lassie to get help.  In the meantime, you should hope that you don't die of sunstroke or thirst or something like that.  Hahahaha!

Okay, here's a better way to get out of the quicksand:  lie down on your back and float, which you can do because your body is lighter than all that watery sand.  Then you can roll or crawl to some solid ground and get out.  This method is supposed to work, but you have to start it right away, as soon as you realize you are in quicksand.  If you wait until you are in up to your knees, it might be too late to get out.

MISINFORMATION #2:  Tulips are from Holland.

Tulips in South Holland
Photo by Allesandro Vecchi
Nowadays, a lot of tulips do come from Holland, but in the beginning, they grew wild in Central Asia.  In fact, the Turks started growing them in gardens all the way back in 1000 CE.  There are a couple of different stories about how tulips ended up in Europe, but the story that seems like it is probably most true is that the Austrian ambassador to the court of the Turkish Emperor brought some bulbs back to Vienna in 1554.

The most expensive tulip hybrid
in the 17th century
At first tulips were mostly grown for medicinal use, but then people started growing them just because they were pretty.  The name tulip came from the Turkish word for turban.  The Dutch fell in love with tulips, and they started growing and exporting them big-time.  From 1634 to 1637, tulips were so popular that this period is called Tulipomania.  Growers came up with all kinds of fancy new hybrids, which they sold for really high prices, like for example, $750, $1,500, or $4,000 for a single bulb.  Then this craze ended, like crazes usually do, and the bottom fell out of the tulip market.  So now it costs much less for people to buy tulips from Holland.

MISINFORMATION #3:  Lightning never strikes in the same place twice.

Chicago; AP photo
This old saying is so not true!  Lightning really does strike in the same place.  In fact, it is even more likely to strike in the same place more than once.  This is because lightning follows the "path of least resistance," using anything that will help bridge the gap between the clouds and the ground.  So tall towers and buildings tend to get hit over and over again by lightning.  A television tower might be hit every 30 seconds during a thunderstorm.  Lightning strikes the Sears Tower in Chicago between 40 and 90 times every year.

MISINFORMATION #4:  Bloomers were invented by Amelia Bloomer.

Actually, the person who dreamed up bloomers was Mrs. Elizabeth Smith Miller.  Both she and Mrs. Amelia Jenks Bloomer were working hard back in the 1850s to get more rights for women, to make women's clothes more practical, and to make alcoholic drinks illegal.  These two women were sort of rivals, and it was Mrs. Miller who invented a pantaloon type of garment that was worn with a short skirt over it.  But Mrs. Bloomer wore it so often when she was speaking in public that people started calling it the "Bloomer suit" or "Bloomers" for short.

The nice thing about bloomers was that women could wear them and do stuff like ride bicycles without showing anything indecent such as their ankles.  But the press made fun of these women in bloomers, so the style didn't really catch on.

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