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The Truth About McHotDogs

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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.

Fast food has its staples: hamburgers and cheeseburgers, french fries, soda, probably a chicken option such as nuggets or a grilled sandwich. More "exotic" items include onion rings, milkshakes, hash browns, and fried fish items. But rarely—Wienerschnitzel franchises excepted—are hot dogs on the menu. For McDonald's, there's a reason. Blame Ray Kroc, the man who bought the tiny company in 1954 and turned it into a multi-billion dollar fast food behemoth.

In 1977, Kroc wrote an autobiography titled Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's, documenting his vision for burgers and fries made quickly, cheaply, and at immense scale. In the book, he notes that McDonald's is always experimenting with new potential additions to the menu, going so far as to explicitly state that "it's entirely possible that one day we'll have pizza [on the menu]." (Pizza was indeed tested, and made the menu of roughly 500 stores before being withdrawn. Per Wikipedia, though, McPizza is still available at three McDonald's locations, one each in Spencer, WV; Orlando, FL; and New Haven, CT.) But Kroc singled out hot dogs as the one food beyond the even the pale of experimentation: "On the other hand, there's damned good reason we should never have hot dogs. There's no telling what's inside a hot dog's skin, and our standard of quality just wouldn't permit that kind of item."

Nevertheless, Kroc's edict did not withstand the test of time.

McDonald's has tested hot dogs—the McHotDog, naturally (shown above)—in a number of markets, most notably at the location in Toronto's SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre), home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Apparently, in Canada, there's nothing more American than a hot dog at a baseball game.
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BONUS FACT:
New York City is rife with carts (such as the one seen here) selling hot dogs, pretzels, cold drinks, etc., with the core products running a buck or two, depending on location. Central Park spots can run as high as $175,000 annually, and in 2008, one vendor bid over $600,000 for the exclusive right to sell wieners outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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

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