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Nobel Pursuits Redux

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Some time ago, I wrote about the Nobel Prize (highlights include the following trivia: 1. Despite twelve nominations between 1937 and 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was never awarded one, and, perhaps just as curious, 2. The backside of the actual medal depicts three naked men embracing with private parts exposed).

Today, however, noble history of a different kind will be made as Frank Wilczek, MIT physics professor and winner of the Nobel Prize in 2004, sings the lead role in the Austrian premiere of the cleverly titled opera, Atom & Eve.

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From a press release we received:

The opera recounts the romance between a humble oxygen atom and the beautiful female chemist who spies him one day in her microscope"¦ Atom & Eve debuted in 2003 at the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University. The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.

Marc Abrahams, organizer of the Ig Nobel Prizes, wrote the opera's libretto. Abrahams is also the editor of the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research.

And though no mention was made of the composer (if anyone knows who wrote the music, do tell!), I, for one, am looking forward to the performance via live webcast -- ding! another point for technology.

Check out Improbable.com for linkage and tune in starting at 1pm EDT. There's also a link there to download the entire libretto in English, German and Chinese... talk about taking the joke seriously. Erg.

(note: this just in... apparantly the music is by Arthur Sullivan... per an email from Marc Abrahams. Thanks Marc! If you listen to the webcast and figure out which opera, write in! First one to get it wins bragging rights...)

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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