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December 12, 2007

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The Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of 2007, according to TIME. Planets and dinosaurs are there, but the biggest breakthroughs are inside of us.

Led Zeppelin performed their Reunion Concert Monday night in London to rave reviews. In answer to the question that was asked last week, yes, they performed Stairway to Heaven.

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2007 is w00t. This recognition signifies the very end of any coolness for the term, and ensures that it will never again be used in internet forums.

Alexis Lemaire broke his own record for mental computing at the Science Museum in London by finding the 13th root of a 200-digit random number in 70.2 seconds. I don't even know what a 13th root is, and I'm impressed.

We hear different music depending on how we dance to it. You can try it yourself with the sound samples that accompany this report on the experiment.

Watch the folks at Walt Disney World construct a giant gingerbread house! Three days of work are compressed into 30 seconds for this video.

How did the tree everyone loves to hate ever get the name Tree of Heaven?

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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