Why a cave in Missouri holds more than a billion pounds of cheese

From Deseret.com: “Why is there 1.4 billion pounds of cheese stored in a cave in Missouri? It started in the 1970s, during former President Jimmy Carter’s era and his promise of giving farmers a break. He wanted to raise the price of milk, but the government couldn’t just buy milk and store it, so it started to buy as much cheese as people wanted to sell. Then farmers were producing way too much cheese, raising the question: What should the government do with all the cheddar? To tackle this, former President Ronald Reagan started food assistance programs to distribute 30 million pounds of cheese. In the 1990s, the government also started making deals with fast-food restaurants to help sell the surplus.”

A crucial component for microchips is a byproduct of the food additive MSG

From MIT: “In microchips, a material is placed between the chip and the structure beneath it in order to keep the signals from getting crossed; this material, called dielectric film, is produced in sheets that are as thin as white blood cells. For 30 years, a single Japanese company called Ajinomoto has made billions producing this particular film, and has more than 90% of the market. If you recognize the name Ajinomoto, you’re probably surprised to hear it plays such a critical role: the company is better known as the world’s leading supplier of MSG seasoning powder. In the 1990s, it discovered that a by-product of MSG made a great insulator, and it has enjoyed a near monopoly ever since.”

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This teacher kept a promise he made to his students in 1978 by having an eclipse party

From The Guardian: “A New York state teacher hosted dozens of his former students to watch Monday’s eclipse, finally fulfilling a promise he made all the way back in 1978. Patrick Moriarty, 68, a former middle school science teacher, brought together about 100 ex-students of his to watch Monday’s total solar eclipse from his driveway. At 22 years old, Moriarty began teaching earth science just outside Rochester. For 16 years, he told his science classes that they would all watch the celestial event together. The former teacher even told students that he would take out an ad in the local paper with more details about the gathering. Moriarty said he actually began planning for the promised gathering about two years ahead of the actual eclipse.”

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The time that author Octavia Butler got edited by an arrogant teenager

From the LA Review of Books: “In 1979, when I was 14, I was determined to publish a biweekly, 24-page magazine of science fiction entitled Transmission. I commissioned Octavia, who was 32, to write an essay. (I do not believe I ever told her my age.) On July 28 of that year, I had heard her speak at the Fantasy Faire convention in Pasadena, California, where she participated in a panel debating the topic “How Science Fiction Handles Social Change.” Although my behavior with her was appalling at times, the result of our brief interaction turned out to be more meaningful and enduring than I could have imagined.”

How Quebec drug trafficker Raymond Boulanger became a celebrity

From The Globe and Mail: “Raymond Boulanger couldn’t help but ham it up for the press. It was 1992 and the Quebec pilot and some time flyer for the Central Intelligence Agency had been caught attempting to import four tonnes of cocaine. Mr. Boulanger and his Colombian accomplices were being marched into a courtroom to face charges in the largest-ever drug bust in Canada at the time. Boulanger turned to the TV cameras, broke into a big smile and winked. Nicknamed the “Cowboy,” he managed to escape detention in Canada twice. After the first escape, he ended up back in Colombia, only to be kidnapped by left-wing guerrillas and held until a ransom was paid. Arrested by Colombian police, he was shipped back to Canada and returned to prison.”

Stranded on a tiny deserted island they spelled out HELP with palm fronds

So How Will You Ever Get Off the Desert Island?

From CNN: “A US Navy and Coast Guard operation on Tuesday rescued three mariners stranded on a tiny Pacific Ocean islet for more than a week after the trio spelled out “HELP” using palm fronds laid on a white-sand beach. The mission also unexpectedly turned into a family reunion. The three men had been planning to fish the waters around the Pikelot Atoll, part of Micronesia, on March 31 when their 20-foot open skiff was caught by swells and its outboard motor was damaged, according to US Coast Guard officials. They scrambled ashore on uninhabited Pikelot, but their radio ran out of battery power before they could call for help. So the castaways gathered palm fronds from the 31-acre island, arranged them to spell out “HELP” on the beach, and waited.”

Costa Rica’s “Cave of Death” holds a stable pool of carbon dioxide that is 100% fatal

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as “serendipity engines,” such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg’s Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis’s Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton’s The Browser, Clive Thompson’s Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy’s Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova’s The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me.

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