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Episode 1590

Primary Colors

Centuries ago, monks who took a vow of silence developed their own hand signs, with hundreds of gestures, that are still in use today. Plus, how do speakers of different languages distinguish similar shades and tints of colors such as red, yellow...

Butter of Antimony, Flowers of Zinc

Butter of antimony, blue vitriol, flowers of zinc are terms used for centuries by alchemists, now replaced by the scientific names antimony trichloride, cupric sulfate, and powdered zinc oxide. In his delightful memoir Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a...

Periodic Table Word Game

Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle is inspired by the periodic table, and involves adding the chemical symbol for an element to one word in order to form an entirely new word. For example, if you take the hat from a baseball fan and add helium to...

Why Old Books Smell Good

Nothing like that old-book smell. And if you open up an old volume and think you detect notes of vanilla, there’s a good reason. That intoxicating scent is the result of lignin, a chemical compound in plants used for making paper. It has a...

functional food

functional food  n.— «Too many kids are taken in by claims of health benefits in products that have been enhanced by chemical additives, including fiber, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. The industry calls these “functional...

grassoline

grassoline  n.— «The liquid—known as green gasoline—is the chemical equivalent of traditional gasoline, but cleaner and less expensive. According to its inventor, that means the green gas, also referred to as grassoline, has the potential...