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8 Mysterious Facts About Ghostwriter

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Once called the "Children's Television Workshop's most ambitious educational project since Sesame Street," the PBS family mystery series Ghostwriter premiered in 1992 and lasted for three seasons. For readers who missed its original run, Ghostwriter was about a diverse group of kids who found and became friends with a ghost (a.k.a. Ghostwriter) that could only communicate by manipulating letters on signs, in books, and on computer screens. The ghost helped the group solve mysteries, while they also tried to solve the mystery of its identity. Whether you watched it religiously after school, or you've never seen a single episode, here are eight things you should know about Ghostwriter.

1. Ghostwriter was a murdered runaway slave.

The series was canceled before the kids could solve the mystery of who their ghost was before he died, but producer and writer Kermit Frazier had his identity sorted from the beginning. “Ghostwriter was a runaway slave during the Civil War,” Frazier told The New York Times in 2010. “He was killed by slave catchers and their dogs as he was teaching other runaway slaves how to read in the woods. His soul was kept in the book and released once Jamal (Sheldon Turnipseed) discovered the book.”

2. Samuel L. Jackson kicked off the adventures.

Jackson played Jamal’s father in the show, though he only appeared in three episodes in the entire series. The first episode starts with father and son digging through a basement for an old trunk for Jamal’s sister to use at college. Jackson has the first line of dialogue, and when he and Jamal move the trunk, the book that holds the ghost falls off of the shelf.

3. There were quite a few celebrity appearances.

Spike Lee, Daisy Fuentes, Bo Jackson, Salt-N-Pepa, Dr. Dre, Ed Lover, and other familiar faces showed up in episodes of the educational show, either playing themselves or small one-off roles.

4. Brooklyn was an important character in the series.

Atomische, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Set in the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the writers and producers thought of Ghostwriter as a reflection of the borough. “We were looking for a neighborhood that was urban, multi-ethnic, but also had a bit of history to it,” executive producer Liz Nealon told The New York Times. ”When we first scouted Fort Greene, I said, ‘This is it.’” A church there, the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Nealon added that when Ghostwriter was alive, he would have stopped in that area.

5. The show was never really about the ghost.

While giving a group of kids a ghost to interact with is a fun way to get other kids interested, the makers of Ghostwriter wanted the primary focus of the show to be education. According to a 1992 article in Education Week, the three goals of the show were "to motivate children to enjoy and value reading and writing," "to show them how to use effective reading and writing strategies,” and "to provide them with 'compelling' opportunities to read and write.”

6. Ghostwriter was funded in part by Nike.

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In the early 1990s, Nike was a frequent advertiser with Fox (which premiered a sneak peek of the pilot episode) and the major underwriter of Ghostwriter. The athletic apparel and footwear company contributed $5 million to the show, which at the time was the “largest single corporate grant ever made for a children's educational television project.” Nike also promoted the show and literacy with its “Exercise Your Head, Read” campaign.

7. Its first episode bumped the X-Men: The Animated Series premiere.

 

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As a part of the deal with Nike and PBS, Fox had to do some strategic reworking of its Saturday morning cartoon lineup. On October 3, 1992, X-Men: The Animated Series did not premiere as scheduled. It was moved to October 31 to make room for Ghostwriter, but the commercials that were planned for its breaks were still shown. Also as a way to get viewers to watch both channels, part one of the premiere was shown on Fox, and viewers had to tune in to PBS on Sunday evening to see the conclusion.

8. It was Julia Stiles’ first acting credit.

IMDb lists Ghostwriter's "Erica Dansby" as Julia Stiles's first professional role (on television or film). As the editor of the school newspaper, she appeared in six episodes. But there is one clip that the Internet is obsessed with, in which Erica schools Tina (Tram-Anh Tran) on hackers.

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science
11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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Here's How to Turn an IKEA Box Into a Spaceship
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Since IKEA boxes are designed to contain entire furniture items, they could probably fit a small child once they’re emptied of any flat-packed component pieces. This means they have great potential as makeshift forts—or even as play spaceships, according to one of the Swedish furniture brand’s print ads, which was spotted by Design Taxi.

First highlighted by Ads of the World, the advertisement—which was created by Miami Ad School, New York—shows that IKEA is helping customers transform used boxes into build-it-yourself “SPÄCE SHIPS” for children. The company provides play kits, which come with both an instruction manual and cardboard "tools" for tiny builders to wield during the construction process.

As for the furniture boxes themselves, they're emblazoned with the words “You see a box, they see a spaceship." As if you won't be climbing into the completed product along with the kids …

Check out the ad below:

[h/t Design Taxi]

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