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Archive for May, 2010

Winner: GregD

Ever since a hotly disputed contest two months ago, GregD has been seen wandering around muttering: “I was screwed by Pluto”. Although this seems anatomically improbable, he has been off his game since that fateful night.

This evening, energized by a Pluto sticker kindly provided by Jaime, he returned to form and sneaked by Dropping Dave, Driver Shea (the birthday boy), and Coffee Bill for the win. He felt bad about beating Artie on his birthday, but not that bad.

We had some first time guests join us for the game, including Pat & Bud from the heart of Nassau county. Buddy had quit his day job to crash study for this contest and almost finished in the money. Better luck next time, Bud.

“Good Question!”: What did Wilhelm Röntgen invent?

Answer: X-Rays

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen was not the typical physicist.  He never received his high school diploma, was a notoriously scatter-brained professor, and lived most of his life in seclusion.  However, his unique background did not hinder him from making one of the most important discoveries of the 19th century, even if it was by accident.

Roentgen was exploring the path of electrical rays passing from an induction coil through a partially evacuated glass tube. Although the tube was covered in black paper and the room was completely dark, he noticed that a screen covered in fluorescent material was illuminated by the rays. He later realised that a number of objects could be penetrated by these rays, and that the projected image of his own hand showed a contrast between the opaque bones and the translucent flesh. He later used a photographic plate instead of a screen, and an image was captured. In this way an extraordinary discovery had been made: that the internal structures of the body could be made visible without the necessity of surgery. Röntgen referred to the radiation as “X”, to indicate that it was an unknown type of radiation.

The image above is the first x-ray Roentgen ever created in 1895. It is an image of his wife’s hand – you can see her wedding ring. This was the first ever photograph of a human body part using X-rays.

The discovery of X-rays is seen as an example of how technologies with widespread applications can spring from the pursuit of basic science. Röntgen came across X-rays almost by chance while investigating what happened when electrons were passed through various types of vacuum tube. For his great discovery, he was given the honorary title of Doctor of Medicine and awarded the first Nobel Prize for physics in 1901. Adamant his discovery was free for the benefit of humankind, Röntgen refused to patent it.

The X-ray machine was voted the most important invention in the history of science in a 2009 British Science Museum poll. Nearly 50,000 people voted on ten of the most significant objects in science, engineering, technology and medicine selected for the vote. The X-ray machine was a clear winner, The first three positions were filled by medical inventions or discoveries, the X-ray machine being followed by the discoveries of penicillin and the DNA double helix structure.

For those X-Ray fans with much more time:


X-rays are waves of electromagnetic energy which behave in much the same way as light rays, but at wavelengths approximately 1000 times shorter than the wavelength of light. X-rays can pass uninterrupted through low-density substances such as tissue, whereas higher-density targets reflect or absorb the X-rays because there is less space between the atoms for the short waves to pass through.

Thus, an X-ray image shows dark areas where the rays traveled completely through the target (such as with flesh) and light areas where the rays were blocked by dense material (such as bone).

Following X-ray’s discovery in 1895, this scientific wonder was seized upon by sideshow entertainers who allowed patrons to view their own skeleton and gave them pictures of their own bony hands wearing silhouetted jewelry.

The most important application of the X-ray, however, was in medicine, an importance recognized almost immediately after Röntgen’s findings were published. Within weeks of its first demonstration, an X-ray machine was used in America to diagnose bone fractures. X-rays were used to treat soldiers fighting in the Boar war and those fighting in WWI, finding bone fractures and imbedded bullets.

Thomas Alva Edison invented an X-ray fluoroscope in 1896, which was used by American physiologist Walter Cannon (1871-1945) to observe the movement of barium sulfate through the digestive system of animals and, eventually, humans. In 1913 the first X-ray tube designed specifically for medical purposes was developed by American chemist William Coolidge.

Although some doctors were quick to take up the invention, it was not until the 1920s that the use of X-rays became widespread. However, over time the negative effects of the X-Ray began to emerge.  Many problems, including burning, infection, swelling, cancer, and eventual amputation forced the medical and scientific community to reinvestigate the mechanics and workings of the X-Ray process.

Following Marie Curie’s discovery of radium, scientists realized that radiation was also produced during the X-Ray process, causing the mysterious deformities and illnesses. Horrifyingly, companies kept this information in secrecy from the public while working to improve the safety of its machinery.

Modern medical X-ray machines are grouped into two categories: “hard” or “soft” X-rays. Soft X-rays, which operate at a relatively low frequency, are used to image bones and internal organs and, unless repeated excessively, cause little tissue damage. Hard X-rays, very high frequencies designed to destroy molecules within specific cells thus destroying tissue, are used in radiotherapy, particularly in the treatment of cancer. The high voltage necessary to generate hard X-rays is usually produced using cyclotrons or synchrotrons (variations of particle accelerators, or atom smashers).

Following WWI and WWII, the X-Ray machine was thoroughly incorporated into American society.  The machine was improved by leaps and bounds; the images became clearer, the process became safer for both the patient and technician, and the machines themselves became portable and easier to use. Many other machines also emerged from the X-Ray; the MRI, PET, CT scan, ultrasound and mammography all built off of the fundamentals of the X-Ray machine. Even in today’s world, it is difficult to picture an airport or public building without X-Ray machines checking the contents of bags and luggage.

sources: university of mary washington, world of invention summary, the british library

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Winner: Bill

Coffee Bill played a mostly error free round and eked out a win against a fast charging Driver Shea, Dropping Dave & Rosebud. On a stormy, rainy night the crowd was smaller but spirited, and included one of the game’s original players – Mr. Ed.

Tonight’s contest was decided by one esoteric sports question:

Which sport plays for the Solheim Cup?

Bill, a one time caddy for Tiger Woods, was the only one to know that the Solheim Cup is the professional women golfers version of the men’s Ryder Cup. A fat pitch for Bill and he hit it out of the park. Looks like winning means he will be stuck with that traditional Vietnamese conical hat – but he does look rather nice in it.

“Good Question!”: What does M&M stand for?

Answer: Mars and Murrie

Forrest Mars, Sr. founder of the Mars Company, got the idea for the confection in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War when he saw soldiers eating chocolate pellets with a hard shell of tempered chocolate surrounding the inside, preventing the candies from melting. Mars received a patent for his own process on March 3, 1941. Production began in 1941 in a factory located at 285 Badger Avenue in Clinton Hill, Newark, New Jersey.

One M was for Forrest E. Mars Sr., and one for William F. R. Murrie, President of Hershey’s Chocolate . Murrie had 20 percent interest in the product. The arrangement allowed the candies to be made with Hershey chocolate which had control of the rationed chocolate. When operations were started, the hard-coated chocolates were made in five colors: red, yellow, brown, green, and violet. They were served in a cardboard tube (similar to Smarties).  During the War the candies were exclusively sold to the military.

Here is some more stuff about M&M’s:
In 1948, the cardboard packaging was replaced by the black cellophane packaging. In the same year Mars bought out Murrie’s 20 percent stake. In 1950, a black “M’” was imprinted on the candies. It was changed to white in 1954. Peanut M & Ms were introduced in 1955, but were never made in the tan color. In 1960 Peanut M & Ms added the yellow, red, and green colors.

Almond-centered M&M’s were marketed and then withdrawn in the 1960s. In 1988, almond-centered M&M’s hit stores again in limited release, with appearances only during Christmas and Easter times. They became a standard part of the product line in 1992 and the dark chocolate version is my fave health food. In 2000, “Plain” M&M’s (a name introduced in 1954 when Peanut M&M’s were introduced) were renamed “Milk Chocolate” M&M’s, and pictures of the candy pieces were added to the traditional brown and white packaging.

Since 2005 M&M’s have been available online in 17 colors, with personalized phrases on each candy on the opposite side from the “m”.  Released around Christmas, these custom-printed M&M’s were originally intended for holiday greetings, but are now available all year round.

In the summer of 2005, Mars added “Mega M&M’s” to the lineup. These candies are 55% larger than the traditional M&M’s and are available in milk chocolate and peanut varieties. Most of the colors for Mega M&M’s were also changed to less-bright colors — teal (replacing green), beige (orange), maroon (red), gold (yellow), blue-gray (blue), and brown — to appeal more to adults. In July 2006, Dark Chocolate M&M’s reappeared in a purple package, followed in 2007 by Dark Chocolate Peanut M&M’s.

M&M’s introduced another new product called “M&M’s Premiums” in 2008. They come in five flavors — chocolate almond, mint chocolate, mocha, raspberry almond and triple chocolate (milk, dark, and white chocolate), which are sold in small upright cartons with a plastic bag inside. M&M’s Premiums do not have a candy shell, but are coated with carnauba wax and color. UGH!

During the 2008 Valentine’s Day season Mars introduced bags of all-green M&M’s. This was due to common urban folklore that holds green M&M’s to be an aphrodisiac. They were brought back for Valentine’s Day 2009 alongside the “Ms. Green Heats Up Valentine’s Day” contest. What’s up with that?

During the summer of 2008, My M&M’s launched ‘Faces,’ which allows consumers to print the faces of loved ones on M&M’s chocolate candies. Pair this up with the green M&M’s and score  a home run!

Source: adapted from Wikipedia

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Winner: Dave

After a long hiatus from the game, tugboat Dave returned and led all the way, edging out dropping Dave & Pluto, and showed that he still has what it takes to win. Dave had been in Louisiana for 18 months doing marine salvage and helping the people there recover from Katrina. In the old days Dave, who owned & operated a local fish market, had been known to supply fresh lobsters as the winner’s prize. Ah yes, those were the days!

Jeremy, the Kenyon Kid, recently back from his junior semester in Kolkata, India joined us and was able to order a beer legally for the first time. It must have gone to his head, because he was beaten soundly in the head to head match with his Uncle Pluto. Better luck next time Kid!

“Good Question!”: Who was the first non royal to appear on a British postal stamp?

Answer: William Shakespeare

Surprisingly, given the importance of playwright and poet William Shakespeare’s contribution to world culture, requests to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his birth on stamps were not immediately approved. At the time the Post Office would only mark Royal or postal anniversaries, and current events of national or international significance. Lobbying followed, and eventually the stamps were approved as a commemoration of the national Shakespeare Festival of 1964, held to mark Shakespeare’s quatercentenary.

Reynolds Stone and Edward Bawden were amongst those who submitted designs for the stamps, but it was David Gentleman’s designs which were chosen. The artists had been asked to ensure that if an image of Shakespeare was included in their design that it was not larger than the Queen’s head. Gentleman’s design complied with these instructions but still proved to be controversial, partly because Shakespeare’s head was the same size as the Queen’s, giving it equal importance, but mainly because the image of a commoner had never appeared on a stamp before. “This caused a fuss that would be unimaginable now,” Gentleman later noted in his book Artwork. “…And there were jokes in Parliament about the proximity of the Queen’s head to Shakespeare’s Bottom.

source: The British Postal Museum & Archive


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