From NPR’s All Things Considered: “Born in Boston in 1898, William James Sidis made the headlines in the early 20th century as a child prodigy with an amazing intellect. His IQ was estimated to be 50 to 100 points higher than Albert Einstein’s. He could read the New York Times before he was 2. At age 6, his language repertoire included English, Latin, French, German, Russian, Hebrew, Turkish and Armenian. Sidis was accepted to Harvard at age 9, but the school wanted him to wait until he was 11. Five years later, he graduated cum laude. But as an adult, he purposefully faded into the shadows. Sidis biographer Amy Wallace says he despised media attention. “He became a household name, and he hated it.” After a brief stint as a mathematics professor, Sidis went into hiding from public scrutiny, moving from city to city, job to job, often using an alias.”
I’m completely blind, but a lot more capable than most people think
From Jeffry Ricker for Psyche magazine: “I have been completely blind for several years. After a series of eye surgeries and the development of glaucoma, I started to lose my vision in early 2017. The last time I saw my face was February 2019. By the end of that year, I could see nothing but some colour and a few specks of light. And I soon lost even that. I lived near a centre that taught the skills needed to live independently as a blind person. All I needed, I thought, was to learn the technology and skills that would allow me to function in everyday life. Especially disruptive were the sudden and striking changes in my interactions with others. Strangers often seemed anxious around me. Even people I had known for years sometimes avoided me. Other blind people told me of family members who were embarrassed by their blindness.”
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There’s a massive cavern underneath a plaza in South Korea, and no one knows why
From Rapael Rashid for The Guardian: “If you look in the right place, beneath the bustling streets in the heart of Seoul, you will come across something unexpected: stalactites. They hang ominously from the dank ceiling, a witness to the passage of time and decades of neglect. These mineral deposits have gathered under Seoul Plaza, probably one of South Korea’s most well-known spaces, famous for hosting everything from protests to concerts, in a vast mysterious underground tunnel the purpose of which even city officials are unsure of. The tunnel – which stretches on for 335 metres and covers an impressive 3,000 square metres – has remained hidden for decades, until now. After pulling on a dust mask, safety helmet, and protective shoe covers, we enter through the backdoor of a now-demolished toy library in an underground arcade, stepping into complete darkness.”
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The man who inspired Uncle Tom helped create the Underground Railroad
From Clint Smith for The Atlantic: “Who was Josiah Henson? Born in 1789, according to his autobiography, he was enslaved in Maryland and Kentucky and served as an overseer before escaping to Canada in 1830. By 1862, Henson had helped found a 200-acre settlement in Ontario, known as Dawn, which provided a refuge for hundreds of free Black people who had fled bondage in America. He had also made numerous return trips to the American South to help guide enslaved people to freedom. In total, Henson said, he freed 118 people; by comparison, Harriet Tubman is believed to have freed about 70. He was one of the first Black people to be an exhibitor at a World’s Fair. He met with President Rutherford B. Hayes and Queen Victoria. He built businesses that gave Black fugitives a livelihood after years of exploitation.”
The word corn shows how American English started to evolve away from the British
From Rosemarie Ostler for Lapham’s Quarterly: “By the time of the American Revolution, English had been evolving separately in England and America for nearly two hundred years, and the trickle of new words had become a flood. Corn offers an example of how English words evolved in America. Before 1492, the plant that Americans call corn (Zea mays) was unknown in England. The word corn was a general term for grain, usually referring to whichever cereal crop was most abundant in the region. For instance, corn meant wheat in England, but usually referred to oats in Ireland. When American corn came to Britain, it was named maize, the English version of mahiz, an Indigenous Arawakan word adopted by the Spanish. When the first colonists encountered it in North America, however, they almost always referred to it as corn or Indian corn, probably because it was the main cereal crop of the area.”
Why did thousands of toads suddenly explode near Hamburg in Germany?
From Dan Lewis at Now I Know: “As the Associated Press reported in 2005: “More than 1,000 toad corpses have been found at a pond in an upscale neighborhood in Hamburg and over the border in Denmark after bloating and bursting. Local environmental workers in Hamburg have described it as a scene out of a horror or science fiction movie, with the bloated frogs agonizing and twitching for several minutes, inflating like balloons before they suddenly burst.” So what happened? Eventually, researchers figured out the cause: hungry crows. They are smart enough to know that the toads’ skin is toxic, so they only eat the liver. The toads apparently don’t notice when the crows are pecking at them. But once they’re done, the toad realizes it’s been attacked. It puffs itself up as a natural defense mechanism. But without the liver there is nothing to hold the rest of its organs in, so they simply expel themselves, and the toad effectively explodes.”