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A Selection of 19-Year-Old Isaac Newton's Secret Sins

In 1662, a 19-year-old Isaac Newton started carrying a leather-bound journal, which he used to track finances and work out math problems. But he also used it to hide something secret. On two pages, Newton scribbled a cryptic code, a code that went unsolved for over 300 years. In 1964, historians finally solved the script. They discovered a list of sins: 57 of Newton’s wrongdoings. The journal—today called the Fitzwilliam notebook—paints the Enlightenment icon as a mood-swinging, sweet-toothed, spiritually confused teenager. Here are some of Newton’s sinful gems.

Sins of the Stomach

Newton had a guilty appetite: He brought apples to church, stole plums, and substituted prayer with pie.

• “Eating an apple at Thy house.”
• “Peevishness at Master Clarks for a piece of bread and butter.”
(When he was 12, Newton was sent to a boarding school for five years. He resided with William Clarke, an apothecary who ignited Newton’s interest in chemistry.)
• “Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer." (Storer was Clarke’s stepson.)
• “Denying that I did so."
• “Robbing my mother[']s box of plums and sugar.”
• “Making pies on Sunday night.”

Sins of Abuse

Newton may have been a fisticuffs master: He was a fighter and a wee bit of a trickster.

• “Threat[e]ning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them." (Newton shared a tense relationship with his mother and stepfather, Reverend Barnabas Smith.)
• “Wishing death and hoping it to some.”
• “Striking many.”
• “Beating Arthur Storer." (Arthur was Clarke’s other stepson, who later became America’s first colonial astronomer. Newton supposedly loved Arthur’s sister, Katherine.)
• “Punching my sister.”
• “Putting a pin in John Keys hat on Thy day to pick him.”
• “Calling Dorothy Rose a jade." (A “jade” was a “worn-out horse,” but when applied to women, it essentially meant “whore.”)

Sins on Sunday

Sometimes, Newton forgot that Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest, committing egregious Sunday sins like mousetrap-making and (tisk!) reading.

• “Making a feather while on Thy day.”
• “Denying that I made it.”
• “Making a mousetrap on Thy day.”
• “Contriving of the chimes on Thy day.”
• “Squirting water on Thy day.”
• “Swimming in a kimnel on Thy day.” (A kimnel was a tub, often for salting meat.)
• “Twisting a cord on Sunday morning.”
• “Reading the history of the Christian champions on Sunday.”

Miscellaneous Guilt Trips

Forget that image of Isaac Newton as a dainty mathematician in a powdered wig. Instead, think of him as a crossbow-wielding teenager who steals your bath towel and lies about the bugs in your hair.

• “Setting my heart on money learning pleasure more than Thee.”
• “A relapse.”
• “Denying my chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot.” (In Middle English, using the term "sot" was a stylish way to call someone a drunken fool.)
• “Using Wilford[']s towel to spare my own.”
• “Lying about a louse.”
• “Denying a crossbow to my mother and grandmother though I knew it.”

For the full list of Newton’s sins, visit the Newton Project, an archive of the scientist’s written work.

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Big Questions
What Causes Sinkholes?
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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a sinkhole opened up on the White House lawn—likely the result of excess rainfall on the "legitimate swamp" surrounding the storied building, a geologist told The New York Times. While the event had some suggesting we call for Buffy's help, sinkholes are pretty common. In the past few days alone, cavernous maws in the earth have appeared in Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Florida, home to more sinkholes than any other state.

Sinkholes have gulped down suburban homes, cars, and entire fields in the past. How does the ground just open up like that?

Sinkholes are a simple matter of cause and effect. Urban sinkholes may be directly traced to underground water main breaks or collapsed sewer pipelines, into which city sidewalks crumple in the absence of any structural support. In more rural areas, such catastrophes might be attributed to abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns that can't take the weight anymore. These types of sinkholes are heavily influenced by human action, but most sinkholes are unpredictable, inevitable natural occurrences.

Florida is so prone to sinkholes because it has the misfortune of being built upon a foundation of limestone—solid rock, but the kind that is easily dissolved by acidic rain or groundwater. The karst process, in which the mildly acidic water wears away at fractures in the limestone, leaves empty space where there used to be stone, and even the residue is washed away. Any loose soil, grass, or—for example—luxury condominiums perched atop the hole in the ground aren't left with much support. Just as a house built on a weak foundation is more likely to collapse, the same is true of the ground itself. Gravity eventually takes its toll, aided by natural erosion, and so the hole begins to sink.

About 10 percent of the world's landscape is composed of karst regions. Despite being common, sinkholes' unforeseeable nature serves as proof that the ground beneath our feet may not be as solid as we think.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

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DNA Analysis of Loch Ness Could Reveal the Lake's Hidden Creatures
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Stakeouts, sonar studies, and a 24-hour video feed have all been set up in an effort to confirm the existence of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Now, the Associated Press reports that an international team of scientists will use DNA analysis to learn what's really hiding in the depths of Scotland's most mysterious landmark.

The team, led by Neil Gemmell, who researches evolutionary genetics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, will collect 300 water samples from various locations and depths around the lake. The waters are filled with microscopic DNA fragments animals leave behind as they swim, mate, eat, poop, and die in the waters, and if Nessie is a resident, she's sure to leave bits of herself floating around as well.

After extracting the DNA from the organic material found in the water samples, the scientists plan to sequence it. The results will then be compared to the DNA profiles of known species. If there's evidence of an animal that's not normally found in the lake, or an entirely new species, the researchers will hopefully spot it.

Gemmell is a Nessie skeptic, and he says the point of the project isn't necessarily to discover new species. Rather, he wants to create a genetic profile of the lake while generating some buzz around the science behind it.

If the study goes according to plan, the database of Loch Ness's inhabitants should be complete by 2019. And though the results likely won't include a long-extinct plesiosaur, they may offer insights about other invasive species that now call the lake home.

[h/t AP]

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