Kori and Amanda Learn

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Not so Smazing May 10, 2010

Filed under: Annoying things,Crossword,Vocabulary — Amanda @ 2:39 PM

We completed today’s NY Times crossword with a word that neither Korilearns nor Amandalearns had ever heard of: smaze.  The clue was “some air pollution.” 

What a great word: smaze.  It’s just fun to say “SMAZE!”  Now, we love learning new words, especially words that are fun to say.  You can probably imagine our excitement when we went to look up the actual definition and history of the word smaze:

A thick, heavy atmospheric condition offering reduced visibility because of the presence of suspended particles: brume, fog, haze, mist, murk.  (answers.com)

Dictionary.com gave us the detailed definition “smoke + haze.”  That’s it.  Try Googling “smaze.”  You get nothing.  No one ever uses it in a sentence.  Ever.

We’re pretty sure that Randy Sowell, today’s puzzle creator, made it up and then convinced Will Shortz that smaze is a real word.  Shame on you, Mr. Shortz.  We expect more from you.


A Brief History of Crossword Puzzles May 5, 2010

Filed under: Brilliant things,Crossword — Amanda @ 5:38 PM

Arthur Wynne's original crossword puzzle from December 21, 1913.

It’s no secret that we here at the Kori and Amanda Learn blog love crossword puzzles.  Who doesn’t?  But do you know who invented the crossword puzzle and when?  How are American crosswords different from British or Japanese crosswords?  Read on, dear reader.     

The first example of a crossword puzzle appeared on September 14, 1890, in the Italian magazine Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica. It was designed by Giuseppe Airoldi and titled “Per passare il tempo” (“To pass the time”). Airoldi’s puzzle was a four-by-four grid with no shaded squares, but it included horizontal and vertical clues.      

On December 21, 1913, Arthur Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool, England, published a “word-cross” puzzle in the New York World that embodied most of the features of the genre as we know it. This puzzle is frequently cited as the first crossword puzzle, and Wynne as the inventor. Later, the name of the puzzle was changed to “crossword.”     

The crossword phenomenon was slow to take hold.  Our own Boston Globe, as early as 1917, was one of the first papers to regularly publish crosswords.  

In 1921, the New York Public Library reported that “The latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle,” and complained that when “the puzzle ‘fans’ swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias so as to drive away readers and students who need these books in their daily work, can there be any doubt of the Library’s duty to protect its legitimate readers?”  Initially, some viewed the crossword puzzle with alarm, and some expected (even hoped) that it would be a short-lived fad. 

The New York Times didn’t publish its first puzzle until 1942.  In fact, the paper was quite critical of these kinds of puzzles.  On November 17, 1924 The New York Times complained of the   

“sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport… [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development.”    

In The New York Times on December 23, 1924 a clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles “the mark of a childish mentality” and said “There is no use for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries any intellectual value with it.”  


Types of Crossword Grids       

American Style Crossword

Crosswords in North America typically feature solid areas of white squares. Each answer usually is required to contain at least 3 letters and shaded squares are typically limited to one-sixth of the crossword design.  In both North America and Britain crossword grids should have a 180-degree rotational symmetry, so that its pattern appears the same if the paper is turned upside down.

UK Style Crossword

Crossword grids elsewhere, such as in Britain and Australia, have a lattice-like structure, with a higher percentage of shaded squares, leaving up to half the letters in an answer unchecked. For example, if the top row has an answer running all the way across, there will be no across answers in the second row.    

The design of Japanese crossword grids often follows two additional rules: that shaded cells may not share a side and that the corner squares must be white.  Due to the Japanese writing system, which uses characters rather than letters, each cell is typically one syllable rather than one letter.

In Poland (shout out to Martufo!) crosswords typically use British-style grids, but do not have shaded cells.  Shaded cells are instead replaced by boxes with clues.  Also, in most Polish crosswords nouns are the only allowed words.

Crossword puzzles RULE!


In the Trenches May 4, 2010

Filed under: Geography — Amanda @ 4:58 PM

Between Korilearns’ addiction to the Discovery Channel and Amandalearns’ addiction to the classic 90’s sci-fi television show Seaquest we should have known this answer immediately.

The Mariana Trench is the deepest known part of the world’s oceans, and the lowest elevation of the surface of the Earth’s crust. It is located in the western Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Mariana Islands. The trench is about 2,550 kilometres long but has a mean width of only 69 kilometres. It reaches a maximum depth of about 10,916 metres at the Challenger Deep, a small slot-shaped valley in its floor, at its southern end.  If Mount Everest, at 8,848 metres tall, were set in the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, there would be 2,076 metres of water left above it.


Only Kori Learns May 3, 2010

Filed under: Animal Kingdom,Crossword,Science — Kori Learns @ 2:47 PM

Today Kori Learns learned about the Loris, which is not to be confused with the Lorax of Dr. Seuss fame.  Lorises are small primates that apparently come in one of two subfamilies, slender or slow.  I am uncertain as to whether they can be both slender and slow, but it appears unlikely.

Lorises are nocturnal and insectivores.  Also, the females practice infant parking, which sounds like something amusing but really only means they leave their babies at home in the nest.  Most interestingly mothers groom their babies with their allergenic saliva to deter predators, which is simultaneously cool and gross.

The reason that only Kori learned is because Amanda already knew about the Loris and this is not the “Kori Learns and Amanda Remembers What She Learned” blog.  Kori Learns finds it surprising that Amanda Learns is the one familiar with this small tree dwelling primate since Kori Learns is the one who has cable and watches too many nature programs like Life, Planet Earth and When Animals Attack.

Lorises are also cute.

Learn Loris Lore here.


What the Veldt?! April 27, 2010

Filed under: Crossword,Geography,Uncategorized,Vocabulary — Amanda @ 2:40 PM

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa, United States

Today’s crossword threw us for a little loop with the clue “Open grassland.”  We had 4 of the 5 letters (_ELDT) and, for the life of us, could not figure out the first letter of the word.  Luckily, we deduced that the answer to “End of a Shakespeare play” should be “ACT V,” thus giving us the V for veldt!  

Turns out that Veldt (also commonly spelled Veld) refers primarily (but not exclusively) to the wide open rural spaces of South Africa or southern Africa and in particular to certain flatter areas or districts covered in grass or low scrub. The word veld (velt in Middle High German, and feld in Old High German) is preserved also in the Afrikaans and Dutch, literally meaning ‘field’.  Veldt can also be likened to “prairie,” “outback,” or my personal favorite: “boondocks.” 

For our musically inclined readers, you might know of an English band called The Veldt.  

Any video gamers out there might recall in the video game Final Fantasy VI, the Veldt is a large flatland in which the characters can fight most previously encountered enemies.


An Argument for Naps April 23, 2010

Filed under: Brilliant things,Science — Amanda @ 9:35 AM
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A new paper, published in the journal Cell Biology, suggests that napping after learning something new could help commit it to memory.  The study found people who dream about a new task perform it better on waking than those who do not sleep or do not dream.  

Volunteers were asked to learn the layout of a 3D computer maze so they could find their way within the virtual space several hours later.  Those allowed to take a nap and who also remembered dreaming of the task, found their way to a landmark quicker.

The researchers think the dreams are a sign that unconscious parts of the brain are working hard to process information about the task.  Dr Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School, one of the authors of the paper, said dreams may be a marker that the brain is working on the same problem at many levels.

Our conclusion: KoriandAmandalearns should take a nap after learning things at lunchtime.

Read the full article at BBC.com.


How to count penguins. April 21, 2010

Filed under: Animal Kingdom,Science — Kori Learns @ 10:46 AM

Five easy steps for counting emperor penguins:

1) Have your government develop a sophisticated satellite imaging system.  Convince them to do this by telling them they should really track potential nuclear weapon sites and other dangerous sorts of things.

2) Once the satellite is up and running, convince them that their fancy shmancy satellites can be used for other types of good, like scientific research.  Everyone loves science!

3) Sob story time.  Plead your case about how it’s really, really hard to try and count emperor penguins.  Explain how you’ve tried attaching radio transmitters, climbing on ladders above their huddling masses, and even attempted to use jets to track them from the air, but to no avail.  These suckers are hard to count.  Plus Antartica’s really cold so no one wants to go there in person.

4) Tell the super secret government spy people that they could easily solve the worlds penguin counting problems if they just took a few minutes out of their day to take satellite photos of emperor penguins in Antartica!

5) Offer to pay.

Please note that these five steps only work for counting emperor penguins in the wild.  If you just want to count any old group of penguins, there are easier ways.  One way would be to go to the New England Aquarium.  Or South Africa, which is way warmer than Antartica and has lots of penguins.

For a more detailed account of penguin counting please click here.