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Asked by Destin Jones in Alligators and Crocodiles, Halsey


Is “alligator tears” an acceptable variant of “crocodile tears”?

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   “Crocodile tears” is definitely the more common phrase. To shed crocodile tears is to fake a show of grief, based on the fact that crocodiles (and alligators and caimans) sometimes “cry” as they’re eating. For them, it has no basis in emotion or trying to trick onlookers—as far as we know, it has to do with them hissing as they eat, forcing air through their sinuses and triggering tears. Maybe Halsey was trying to be a little less cliché, or she needed that extra syllable. Either way, even if it’s not technically the “right” phrase, “alligator tears” definitely gets her point across, and alligators do the crying thing, too, so no need to cancel Halsey for this one.

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Asked by Lilliana Rogahn in Marine Biology, Fish


Do fish have personalities?

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   yes. they do. Did you ever have a pet fish? well I have 5 of the fish. I asked them a question and it seems like they answered by dancing

Asked by Jacky Farrell in Olympics, Tokyo


Are they canceling the 2020 Olympics?

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   No, at least not for now. There is some speculation that this year’s games in Tokyo will be threatened by the coronavirus outbreak. Recently, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee said that if the virus wasn’t in control by late May, a cancelation is a distinct possibility, but that right now, it’s business as usual. A cancelation is more likely than a postponement or a location change because of the sheer scope of the Olympics, but keep in mind that heretofore, they’ve only been canceled because of World War II in 1940 (which, spookily enough, were also set to be in Tokyo). Barring any further catastrophes, the Tokyo games are set to start July 24, 2020.

Asked by Manley Wehner in Pranks and Practical Jokes


What silly thing has someone tricked you into doing or believing?

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   "Hey, 'gullible' is written on the ceiling."

Asked by Veda Glover in Clouds, Meteorology and Weather


What is a lenticular cloud?

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   Those are the clouds that look like flying saucers. I love them a lot. They’re usually formed in mountainous environments—the relatively moist air from lower in the atmosphere flows up the mountain and cools down significantly, making it condense into a cloud in that iconic saucer shape. These clouds are somewhat elusive because they’re typically short-lived and localized. As the air moves down the other side of the mountain and sinks lower in the atmosphere, it “dries out,” and the cloud disappears. So now if you see one, you’ll know what it is, but you can still pretend it’s a spaceship. I sure will.

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Asked in Cooking Measurements, Plural Nouns


Why is a baker's dozen 13?

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   No one’s completely sure. The most common theory is that since there were harsh punishments for medieval bakers who shorted their customers, they took to throwing in an extra item in case any of them were accidentally a little light (many of them didn’t have scales, so they couldn’t tell exactly). Punishments for medieval bakers were kind of wild—ranging from fines to getting dunked in the river—so the extra caution makes a lot of sense.

Asked by Hugh Luettgen in Poodles, Dogs, Dog Breeds


Why are poodles groomed like that?

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   That very specific grooming style (the shaved parts, the floofy tufts) actually has some thought behind it. Beyond evoking the French aristocracy, that is. Poodles weren’t bred to lounge and look down on us plebs—they were bred to be retrievers. That pattern of hair is intended to speed up their swimming while keeping their vital organs and joints warm. A poodle’s coat is also pretty difficult to maintain. Since it’s so curly and thick, it gets matted easily, requiring frequent brushing. Shaving or closely clipping parts of the dog can help make that more manageable.

Asked by Aniya Konopelski in Tik Tok, Internet


How much money do professional TikTokers make?

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   As with any influencer platform, it can be hard to tell, and it varies a lot by creator and even by piece of content. It’s also difficult to parse out how much of their income is from TikTok itself and how much is from directing their massive TikTok followings to other sites, like using TikTok as a complement to their YouTube channels. As such, there’s no definitive answer, but here’s an example: Influencer Marketing Hub estimates that Loren Gray, the most-followed TikToker with around 39 million followers, makes upwards of $23,000 per post. If you’re interested in how TikTokers can make money at all, much less get rich off of doing silly dances and lip syncing, there are a few different ways. Like other influencers, one lucrative option is by doing brand deals (being paid to promote certain products) or by promoting and selling your own merchandise (“merch,” as the kids say). Another option is getting tipped for live streams. Users purchase “coins” in the app with real money, and
   they can use those coins to buy “virtual gifts” to send to creators while they’re watching their live streams. The gifts then get converted into “diamonds” (I know, I know, stay with me) and creators, in turn, can redeem the “diamonds” for real money. One source of income that’s not available to TikTokers, though, is ads on their videos. On YouTube, creators get a cut of the revenue generated by ads placed on their videos. TikTok has no such system.

Asked by Rodrigo Schoen in Astrology, Astronomy, Planetary Science


What does it mean when Mercury is in retrograde?

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   When a planet is “in retrograde,” it appears to be moving backward in the night sky. Of course, it’s not actually moving backward; that’s just an optical illusion caused by planets orbiting the sun at different speeds. When one overtakes the other, it can look like the other is moving backward from our vantage point on Earth. As for astrological implications, everyone complains about Mercury being in retrograde because it is serious bad news. According to astrology (which, I should note, is not real science), Mercury governs travel and communication, and when it’s in retrograde, you can expect problems in those areas—anything from a poorly worded email and slight flight delays to screaming matches and car crashes. Mercury is in retrograde until March 9, so hold on until then.

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Asked by Tierra Keeling in Winemaking, Wine and Champagne


Does wine really taste better with age?

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   Some wines do, but most wines don’t. More than 90 percent of all wine worldwide is meant to be consumed within one year, and less than 1 percent of the world's wine is meant to be aged for more than five years. Only some select wines are designed to age for extended periods so that their bold tannins (natural preservatives found in grape skins) have time to mellow.

Asked by Felicia Kuphal in Animal Behavior, Dogs


Do dogs love us back?

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   Dogs do love us, but they only love us because we give them food and shelter. So, if you didn't give them that they wouldn't care for you.

Asked by Brielle Cruickshank in Aging and Life Extension


If you could choose to stay a certain age forever, what age would it be?

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   I think either 21 or 22

Asked by Xander Hahn in Time, History


Why do we call 12 p.m. noon?

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   The nickname dates back to the Roman Empire, believe it or not. The Romans had a pretty interesting timekeeping system, dividing the day into four chunks of three hours beginning at 6 a.m. The ninth hour (3 p.m.) was called None and signaled the start of the last section of the day. Over time, the church rituals that happened at None began earlier and earlier (maybe because monks could end their fasts after those rituals). The rest of the story is pretty murky, but at least partially due to these ever-earlier prayers, “noon” meant “midday” by the middle of the 13th century.

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Asked by Jonathon Witting in Refrigerators, Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate)


Does baking soda really work to soak up odors in the refrigerator?

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   Yes, but for a really rank reek, you’re probably going to need scrub down the fridge. Baking soda is best suited to eliminating lingering odors of spoiled food that you’ve discovered and thrown out. How it works: Rotting food releases either acidic or strong alkaline molecules. Baking soda, an “amphoteric” compound that can react with both, neutralizes them and makes them a lot less stinky. The more baking soda surface area you expose, the better it will work, so it’s recommended to leave it in a shallow, open dish, or take the entire top off the box (just opening the little flap won’t cut it). You should also replace the baking soda every three months.

Asked by Kennedi Ratke in Missing Persons, Police and Law Enforcement


When should you report a missing person?

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   Despite the misconception that you need to wait 24 hours, most law enforcement agencies advise people to report a missing person as soon as possible. You should call the non-emergency police number to file a report (unless you suspect foul play). If the missing person is a child, you should call 911 then the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. A missing person is usually defined as someone whose location is unknown, and who therefore cannot be confirmed as alive or dead.

Asked by Casey Corwin in Presidents' Day, Holidays and Traditions


Is Presidents’ Day a national holiday?

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   I hate to have to tell you this, but your friend is right. The federal holiday is officially called “Washington’s Birthday,” and it’s only observed as Presidents’ Day (or President’s Day or Presidents Day) in some states. For kind of a random day in February, the holiday’s history has some pretty interesting twists and turns. Washington’s birthday as a federal holiday goes back to 1885. At that time, it was observed on Feb. 22, what we believe to be George Washington’s actual birthday (the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian, was still in use when he was born, so it’s a little tricky). The move to the third Monday in February took effect in 1971 with a bill that established more federal holidays set on Mondays, ensuring more three-day weekends. There’s a lot more to how Abraham Lincoln’s birthday got thrown into all this mess, and how the day came to honor all presidents to some people, and if you’re not too devastated from losing the argument, I would totally recommend
   reading more about it.

Asked by Jaquelin Jast in Space, Planet Mars


What is NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft studying?

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   MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) is studying Mars’ ionosphere, a very high level of the atmosphere, to learn more about certain ways radio waves are interrupted. Earth’s ionosphere is too low for satellites and too high for aircraft, so the research heretofore has been limited. On Mars, however, satellites like MAVEN are able to orbit in the ionosphere and collect valuable data about concentrated layers of electrically charged gas, which had never before been observed on another planet. This research is ongoing, and a paper about it was published Feb. 3, 2020.

Asked by Darron DuBuque in Nuts, Food & Cooking


Is an almond a nut?

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   Glad you asked, my friend. The answer is no. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a nut as “the dry fruit of some trees, consisting of an edible seed within a hard, outer shell, or the seed itself.” Most often, we eat the seed itself. Some true nuts: chestnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns. An almond is a drupe. A drupe is “a type of fruit that has a thin skin and a large stone (= a single seed with a hard cover) in the middle,” Cambridge says. That’d make a cherry a drupe. That’d make a peach a drupe. And that, dear asker, would make an almond a drupe. See, with cherries and peaches, you eat the thin-skinned fruit and discard the stone/seed, but with almonds, you just eat the seed. Odds are you haven’t seen the fruit part of an almond, but it existed, I tell you. It was a dang drupe. A lot of things are drupes. Cashews, walnuts, olives, mangoes—all drupes. The question shouldn’t be what is a drupe, but what isn’t.

Asked by Laverna Zieme in Yosemite National Park, Waterfalls


What’s a firefall?

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   You’re right, it is really cool! The firefall is a natural phenomenon that occurs for a few days in mid to late February each year in Yosemite National Park. When the setting sun hits Horsetail Fall just right, the waterfall glows red and orange, as if it’s made of fire. This year, though, the fall might not turn fiery. As of Feb. 13, there wasn’t enough water flowing, and there’s no rain in the forecast during the dates when the sun would hit at the right angle. If you’re still wanting to go see it despite the low chance of the spectacle making an appearance, know that it’ll probably be difficult to manage. Last year, thousands of visitors tried to catch a glimpse of the firefall, and the overcrowding caused some destruction, like trampled plants and eroded riverbanks. Park staff hopes to avoid those issues this year by more tightly controlling access to that part of the park.

Asked by Godfrey Franecki in Valentine's Day, Holidays and Traditions


Was Valentine's Day created by greeting card companies?

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   On one hand, I’ll quell your fears: Greeting card companies didn’t create Valentine’s Day—they simply cashed in on an established holiday. But about those purer origins you seek…can’t really help you there, boss. The history of the holiday is a murky, bloodsoaked lake. The concept of a passion-oriented tradition in mid-February dates back to ancient Rome with the Lupercalia festival. From Feb. 13–15, drunken (and potentially naked) Roman men would sacrifice goats and dogs, then take to the streets to whip women with strips of the sacrificial hides. This was supposed to increase their fertility. How romantic—err, at least Roman. Meanwhile, Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two Christian men named Valentine on separate Feb. 14s in the third century. Legend has it that one of the men, before his beheading, wrote a note to a woman and signed it “from your Valentine.” There doesn’t appear to be much truth to that part of the story, but in the murky lake of legend, does it really
   matter? In the late fifth century, Lupercalia was struck from the Roman calendar in an effort to eliminate pagan traditions. St. Valentine’s Day, however, was added to the calendar in 496 A.D. to honor the third-century martyrs. Perhaps in the absence of Lupercalia in mid-February, people began associating fertility, and eventually pure love, with Valentine’s Day. By the Middle Ages, Chaucer was romanticizing the holiday in his poems; Shakespeare followed suit a few hundred years later. Eventually, romantic Europeans were hand-making cards to give to their true loves on Feb. 14. Then, yes, in the 19th and 20th centuries, greeting card companies made absolute boatloads of cash by making it incredibly easy for said romantics.

Asked by Merlin Ankunding in Thunderstorms and Lightning, Meteorology and Weather


Why doesn’t lightning travel in a straight line?

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   So it’s kind of a complicated process, but here’s the two-sentence version: Lightning is an electric current that takes the path of least resistance from the base of a cloud to the ground. Since the air it travels through is not uniform—variations in things like temperature, humidity, and pollutants determine how resistant air is to the charge—the lightning has to zig and zag to stay on that path.
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