Alice had this problem when she went through the looking glass: You start in a known place. You advance, step by steady step. Nothing is amiss, nothing misplaced. But when you land, everything has turned totally weird. Nothing makes sense. All you can do is go, "Huh?" Let's "Huh?" together.
It's getting close to Super Bowl time, so here's a little fantasy. What would happen if a British sports announcer who has no idea how American football works (not a clue) were suddenly thrown on the air and had to do play-by-play for a game between Alabama and Notre Dame? He knows nothing. What would he say?
There are no moose in America, said the French count to Thomas Jefferson. They don't exist there. Americans see a reindeer and just call it a new name, saying it's bigger. But the only thing that's big here is your American imagination. Jefferson was incensed. You are an ignoramus, he said tactfully. Then he promised to deliver an American moose to Paris. Here's what happened next.
Something happened to dolphins. Then it happened to humans. Both creatures had good-sized brains when, for reasons no one truly understands, dolphin brains suddenly got larger and larger, until — 15 million years ago — they stopped growing. Two million years ago it was our turn. Our brains went from the size of an orange to the size of a cantaloupe. Why the start? Why the stop? Who's next?
Come to a place where peppers are so hot, fire trucks come to douse them. Pomegranates explode like grenades there, spaghetti threatens innocent sailors, and the moon is made of cinnamon. Two French food photographers imagine all this, and then let a polar bear water-ski through a plate of marshmallows.
This is a "Which came first?" riddle. Not chicken vs. egg. This one is about rain forests. When rain forests begin, do they start with rain ("Yes!" say I) or trees ("No! That's ridiculous!" say I)? I should warn you: Sometimes nature has a sense of humor.
What are the odds that you will die this year? Whatever they are, the mortality tables suggest those odds will double eight years from now. Death, apparently, moves closer at a curiously regular pace. Why this eight-year progression? Is it something biological? Random? What is it about eight that attracts the Grim Reaper? Let's ask.
There you are in a train station, and if you stand in the right space, suddenly an angel — a lady with enormous wings, looking like the real deal — appears at your side. She's not real. She's a billboard display gone wild. Which is what a bunch of billboards have been doing lately. We visit three of the wildest.
They leap into the air, adjust their tails, land headfirst in the snow, burrow down and hit a teeny moving target — buried three feet below. It's their lunch. How does a fox catch a mouse in winter? This is amazing.
They're little flatworms that glide along riverbeds and perform miracles. Chop off their tails, they grow them back. Split them in half, they grow whole again. But chop off their heads, and not only do they grow new heads, but those new heads contain old memories! Whoa!
This isn't science. Not today. It's art — in this case, the sly performance of a young comedian who is accosted backstage by not-so-nice "fans." But he gets free (wait for this, it comes a few minutes in) by using his pointer finger. I was enchanted.
I'm thinking of a man and his cat. A real man. His real cat. Then I'm imagining a bunch of world-famous cartoonists, Calvin & Hobbes' Bill Watterson, Wile E. Coyote's Chuck Jones, Gary Larson, Maurice Sendak — all of them drawing this same man and his cat. Then I'm staring at very different men and very different cats. Then I'm giggling.
You order a lobster and the waiter shows you an animal that is, he says, older than you are. It's had more birthdays than you. For some people, this is a meal-stopper. Especially, if you are on in years, and what's on the plate is just as elderly (and just as wise?) as you are.
In our Blame episode, we asked whether the condition of a criminal’s brain should lessen the punishment for his crime. Now there’s a headline-making story about this very question.
The idea seemed sensible: Send young elephants from a crowded national park in South Africa to an emptier one, where they could form a new herd and thrive. The problem? Elephants need elders. Without them, all hell breaks loose.
They look, at first, like dangerously protruding rocks on this towering, almost vertical wall in the Italian Alps. But then, uncannily, they move. What are they? And why don't they fall off? What are they doing?
Whatever happened on Easter Island, it wasn't good. Polynesians landed there, farmed, thrived, built their famous statues, and then things went very bad, very fast. Sixteen million trees vanished. What happened? Was this a case of ecological collapse? Not exactly, say two anthropologists. It was, arguably, worse than that.