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The Missing Person Living in Savannah

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

Benjaman Kyle, pictured at left, is missing.

Benjaman Kyle also lives in Savannah, Georgia. If you had his address, you could go visit him, and he'd be there, doing whatever he does each day.

But if you go to the Doe Network, an organization that helps locate missing people, he'll be there. In fact, his case file is 1007UMGA and can be seen here. But unlike most everyone else in the Doe Network's database, Kyle is not in there because no one knows where he is, but rather, because no one knows who he is.

On August 31, 2004, Kyle was found unconscious behind a Burger King, near a dumpster. He was naked, beaten, and bitten by fire ants. His wallet and ID were gone — as was much of his memory. He could not recall any of the events of the past twenty years. He did not know what his name was or where he was from; he did not even recognize his own face.

The mystery man adopted the name "Benjaman Kyle" in part because the initials—B.K.—are also Burger King's. He believes that his true first name is "Benjaman" (with the curious spelling) and therefore uses that name, but there is little to no evidence that he is correct.

His memory is shattered, but over the course of the last few years, he and others have pieced together some likely information about his life before the summer of 2004. He recognizes certain landmarks from Indianapolis, Indiana, which others have used to conclude that he lived in the area sometime in the late 1950s to early 1960s. His spotty but detailed recollection of certain parts of the University of Colorado, Boulder library and other locations around the campus strongly suggests that he attended the university in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Together, this makes him approximately 60 years old.

Kyle also has extensive knowledge of how the restaurant and food preparation business works, including how to operate the machinery. (While he lost his memory, many of his acquired skills remain intact.) Unfortunately, because he cannot remember his Social Security number—and does not have any ID with which to get it re-issued—he cannot gain legal employment. (Why there hasn't been an exception made for his situation is anyone's guess.)

If you have information about Mr. Kyle's true identity, you can contact FBI agent Bill Kirkconnell at 912-232-3716.
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BONUS FACT:
Ben Pridmore of England is a memory champion. He can memorize the order of multiple decks of playing cards in a matter of minutes and once memorized the order of 27 decks of cards—1,404 cards total—with only an hour of study. But most incredibly, Pridmore once committed to memory the correct order of a single deck of cards in 26 seconds.

To subscribe to Dan’s daily email Now I Know, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Why Is Ice Slippery?
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

If you’ve ever shakily stepped onto the ice at your local skating rink, you are intimately familiar with the fear of falling on slippery ice. But what makes ice so slippery in the first place? Interestingly enough, scientists are still trying to figure that one out.

Physicists used to believe that ice became slippery when it was exposed to applied pressure. This pressure, they theorized, lowered the melting temperature of the top layer of ice. They believed that when a person went ice skating, the pressure from the blade caused the topmost layer of ice to melt. The thin layer of water allowed the ice skate to glide easily over the surface. After the blade passed, the top layer of water refroze.

However, most scientists today claim that this theory is wrong. “Ice is a very mysterious solid,” Robert M. Rosenberg, a chemistry professor at Lawrence University, said in an interview with The New York Times.

Scientists found that while pressure does lower the melting point of ice, it only does so by a fraction of a degree. Instead, they proposed that the friction from an ice skate causes the ice to melt beneath it.

Others believe that ice naturally possesses a fluid layer comprised of unstable water molecules. While these molecules search for stability, they move chaotically over the ice’s surface and create a slippery layer.

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Determining Migratory Patterns of Early Humans — With Earwax!

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

Earwax is mostly gross, but it serves a few purposes: protecting our ear canals from bacteria and dryness, assisting in cleaning and lubrication, and — surprisingly — helping anthropologists determine the migratory patterns of early humans.

While most native English speakers have wet, amber-to-brown colored earwax, there's a second type — dry, gray, and flaky. Which type of earwax you have is determined genetically, with the dry type being recessive and perhaps the result of a genetic mutation somewhere along the way. For some reason, the mutation is common among East Asians. An estimated 97 to 100 percent of people of European and African descent have the wet-type earwax, while 90 percent or more of those descended from East Asians have the dry type.

The gene that controls the relative wetness of earwax is tied to sweat, generally, and the prevailing belief amongst researchers is that the recessive gene, insofar that it reduces sweat output, had advantages in the colder climates of northern China (where, along with Korea, dry earwax is most common), where the mutation seems to have begun.

But for the rest of the world population, earwax makeup is mixed. Native Americans and people from southeast Asia, for example, exhibit dry earwax in 30 to 50 percent of the population, and it appears to occur more densely in some communities thereof than others. Armed with this information, researchers can determine in part the ancestral routes of different people and how those ancestors got to where their descendants now live.
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BONUS FACT: Whales' earwax increases over time without (mostly) discharging. This makes the amount of earwax in a whale's ear proportional to its age. As many whales (for example, baleen whales such as the blue whale, the world's largest mammal) do not have teeth, earwax buildup is one of the best ways to determine how old the whale is. For toothed whales and dolphins? Their teeth grow in layers and, much like the rings of a tree's trunk, the layers are used to determine the animal's age.

To subscribe to Dan's daily email, click here.

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