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From the Archives: No, Virginia, sorry about that

With the holiday party season starting up in earnest, you'd better get ready "“ and we don't mean by putting on some fancy earrings and a Christmas sweater. You'll also need some intellectual ammunition, some tidbits and bon mots to dispense over champagne and cookies. So all month long, we'll be bringing you daily factlets for just such use, plucked from our collection of books, magazines, and other stuff. Today's archival tidbit comes from, appropriately, Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets:

Many children figure out the nonexistence of Santa Claus when they begin to contemplate the enormity of his task. And indeed, Santa would need some rocket-powered reindeer: Assuming the world contains two billion households and Santa visits every one over the course of 24 hours, he would have to travel at a rate of 8,000,000 meters per second, leaving him precious little time to dip cookies in milk.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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