Curiosity Desk

9:39 am
Fri November 21, 2014

139 Years Of Harvard-Yale Football — With A Bit Of MIT

A streaker, with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) written on his back, makes his way down the field interrupting the Yale-Harvard college football game during the fourth quarter, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006 in Boston.
Credit (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)


This weekend, the eyes of college football fans throughout the country will be on two teams from local schools that are usually grabbing headlines on the front page rather than the sports page. Harvard University and MIT are both undefeated heading into action tomorrow — and both have plenty on the line. MIT faces a division three playoff matchup with Maine's Hussan University and Harvard squares off with their old nemesis — a rivalry heavily steeped in tradition.

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10:03 am
Fri November 14, 2014

Hacking The Weather To Make Man-Made Snow — In 1946

Vincent Schaefer watches a snow-cloud being seeded in a lab.
Credit Courtesy GE

 Mother nature wasn't the only one producing snow Friday morning, as this week's low temperatures have allowed ski resorts in the area to start making their first snow of the season, too. That they can, is thanks in part to the work of a General Electric scientist — and his auspicious experiment in the clouds over the Berkshires.

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10:44 am
Fri November 7, 2014

In 1915, Mass. Rejected Giving Women The Vote In A Landslide

This 1915 Boston Journal ad advocated against giving women the vote.

This week Massachusetts voters faced four questions on the statewide ballot, deciding on a range of issues from the fate of casinos to the gas tax. Nearly a century ago, voters faced a single question, and it was a historic one: Should women in Massachusetts be allowed to vote?

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9:16 am
Fri October 24, 2014

Old Ironsides Celebrates Her 217th Birthday With A Harbor Cruise

On the top deck of the USS Contitution.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

At precisely 8 a.m., as it does every morning, a single shot rings out into the skies above Charlestown.

The gun on the world’s oldest commissioned war ship still afloat was fired Thursday by one of the U.S. Navy’s newest members, Seaman Apprentice Jacob Harned, just 12 days out of boot camp.

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10:51 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Obamacare Enrollment, Cornel West, And The Curiosity Desk

A new healthcare enrollment season opens November 1st. Jonathan Gruber stops by to help us figure out how to choose from the new plans.
Credit Lori M. Nichols / South Jersey Times via NPR
  • Jonathan Gruber stops by to help us (and you) figure out how to select the best plan in advance of the new November 1st enrollment. Then we talk to you about information overload.
  • A new report say that 1 in 7 Massachusetts residents is living in poverty. There Cognitive dissonance talker new report says 1 out of 7 in Mass is living in poverty.
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1:44 pm
Wed October 22, 2014

Is It Time To Turn The Heat On? Fuel Prices Swing In Both Directions

This week, overnight temperatures in Boston dropped into the 30s for the first time this fall and residents throughout the region reluctantly found themselves facing that age-old autumn question: Is it time to turn the heat on?

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8:37 am
Fri October 17, 2014

This Week In History: Margaret Marshall Becomes First Woman Chief Justice Of Mass. SJC

This May 2, 2005 file pool photograph shows Chief Justice Margaret Marshall asking a petitioner to explain a point during arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court, in Boston, on a petition to halt same-sex couples from marrying until voters can weigh in on the contentious issue.
Credit AP Photo/George Rizer, Pool, File

Long before there was a United States Supreme Court, before there was even a United States of America, the court today known as the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld the law of the land here in the Bay State. Fifteen years ago, for the first time in the court's 300-plus year history, a woman was elevated to serve as chief justice.

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Local News
11:26 am
Thu October 16, 2014

142-Year-Old Trees Cut Down In Cambridge

An arborist begins the careful work of cutting down a now structurally unsound 142 year old yellowood tree.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

Before Red Line trains began whizzing under the streets of Cambridge, before professional baseball existed - let alone Fenway Park, before a single note was played inside Symphony Hall, two yellowwood trees reached into the sky in front of First Church in Cambridge, just across from the Common.

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9:11 am
Mon October 13, 2014

Much More Than Ebola Links Liberia With The U.S.

Credit CIA World Factbook

With the Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa, Liberia has been thrust into the spotlight here in America. But did you realize that it's capital city, Monrovia, is named after the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe?

That's just one example of a deep connection between the west African nation and our own.

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2:59 pm
Fri October 10, 2014

A Transcendental Utopia In West Roxbury? Yup, Welcome To Brook Farm

Almost no trace of the Ripley's utopian community remain at Brook Farm. Today, it's 179 acres of managed wilderness, open to the public.
Edgar B. Herwick III

Perhaps nothing embodies the spirit of the hippie movement of the 1960s better than the commune. But more than a century before the flower power of the '60s, a group of high-minded Bostonians were similarly countering the culture of their day, right in our back yard.

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2:19 pm
Fri September 26, 2014

For Sale: Gloucester Home, Possibly Haunted By T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot
AP Photo

Today would have been the 126th birthday of writer T.S. Eliot. While he was born in St. Louis, and emigrated to England in his 20s, the story of Eliot’s life cannot be told without at least a few chapters set right here in the Bay State.

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Local News
4:26 pm
Mon September 15, 2014

Tesla Can Continue To Dodge Dealers After SJC Ruling

A Tesla store.
Credit CC Chapman [Creative Commons]

For now, electric car manufacturer Tesla will continue to be able to sell cars directly to consumers from their showroom in the Natick Mall.

The Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association had sought to prevent the direct sales, citing a state law that regulates the relationship between car manufacturers and auto dealers, but the Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled Monday that the association and two dealers - Herb Connolly Chevrolet and Fisker Norwood - didn't have legal standing to bring the case.

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11:32 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Local Man Gets Mobbed In Case Of Mistaken Beatlemania, 50 Years Ago Today

Herb Van Dam in the mid-sixties
Courtesy Herb Van Dam

Fifty years ago today, one of the biggest pop-culture waves to ever sweep America made its way to Boston. One local man got swept up — literally — in this particular wave.

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4:53 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

A Look At The Bottom Of The Ballot: Register Of Probate

On Tuesday, voters throughout the Commonwealth did their American duty and cast their votes for the men and women they want to see helm the ship of state for the next few years, including what former Boston City Councilor Richard Ianella calls one of most important elected jobs in the Commonwealth
He is, of course, talking about the Register of Probate.
So who is the Register of Probate? And why should you care, other than the fact that you are expected to vote for one?

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12:13 pm
Fri September 5, 2014

What Exactly Is The Cloud?

Credit Wikimedia Commons photos/Brendan Lynch photo illustration

As nude photos of more than 100 celebrities began circulating the internet this week, the spotlight turned to Apple and its popular iCloud service, believed to be where the hacker obtained the photos. Apple is just one of many companies that uses — and offers users access to — the cloud. But what exactly is the cloud?

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6:00 am
Fri August 29, 2014

The 1918 Influenza Outbreak: When Boston Was Patient Zero

Boston Red Cross volunteers assemble masks at Camp Devens, MA.
Credit National Archives

The deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries since May is a powerful reminder of just how deadly — and unpredictable — a virus can be. Ninety-six years ago this week, the city of Boston was dealing with its own viral outbreak — the start of one of the deadliest natural disasters to ever occur.

A staggering number of people died in 1918. Fifty to 100 million worldwide, by some estimates. The terrifying disease in question? Not Ebola. The flu.

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Local News
5:00 am
Wed August 27, 2014

Massachusetts Ballot Questions: Not Quite A Craps Shoot

It's tough to predict just how citizens will trend when it comes to deciding the casino question in Massachusetts - and three others on the ballot this November: a revised bottle bill, a measure governing the gas tax, and one governing employee sick time. The Curiosity Desk's Edgar B. Herwick III takes a look at how this direct Democracy thing works.

After years of fierce debate, the battle over whether to build casinos in Massachusetts is finally being taken to the people.

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10:31 am
Fri August 22, 2014

How The Sacco And Vanzetti Trial Sparked Worldwide Protest

Bartolomeo Vanzetti (left), handcuffed to Nicola Sacco in Dedham Superior Court, 1923.
Boston Public Library

Today, we go back to 1927, and the final moments for two Boston suspected criminals-turned-cause célèbre whose lives were immortalized by Woody Guthrie and whose story shaped the public policy of one of the Bay State's most renowned politicians.

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11:11 am
Fri August 15, 2014

The Boston Police Strike That Impacted Labor For Generations

A large crowd gathered in Scollay Square during the 1919 Boston Police Strike.
Boston Public Library

This week in 1919, Boston police voted to unionize. That vote led to a police strike that sparked riots, changed the lives of hundreds, and helped send Calvin Coolidge to the Oval Office.

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11:19 am
Thu August 14, 2014

Why The Boston Public Library Is Discarding Books

The reading room at the Boston Public Library.
Credit Wikimedia Commons/Brian Johnson

In the past few months, library-friends-group book sales, nonprofit internet libraries — even — have been flush with books that were, until recently, sitting on local Boston Public Library shelves. But why?

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10:38 am
Fri August 8, 2014

The Picnic That Turned Moby-Dick Into A Masterpiece

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick.
Credit A. Burnham Shute

Chances are you’ve read it, or were supposed to read it, at some point — maybe your high-school English class or a survey of American literature in college.

And while the book, "Moby-Dick; or, The Whale" is named after the whale, Moby-Dick, the centerpiece of the great American novel is the deranged, obsessed man at the helm of the Pequod, Captain Ahab.

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3:43 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

Downtown Boston Freemason Lodge Holds Secrets — Even From The Masons

The Chamber of Reflection in the Grand Lodge, used by the York Rite.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

It all started at the Bunch of Grapes tavern — on what is now State Street in Boston, when a fellow named Henry Price gathered 17 men and established the first Grand Masonic Lodge in the New World.

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12:18 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

This Week In History: The Boston Post Takes Down Charles Ponzi

Charles Ponzi, his wife and his mother on his porch in Lexington.
Courtesy Hammond Residential Real Estate

  Real Estate agents Jodi and Jean Winchester are walking me through a stately yellow stucco colonial revival mansion on a tranquil street in Lexington. There’s a perfectly manicured acre of land surrounding the estate. Heck, there’s even a carriage house.

And it belonged to Charles Ponzi, of the infamous Ponzi scheme.

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1:08 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Big Brother Is Coming To Boston School Buses

Boston will begin using cameras on school buses this year.
Credit Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This fall, there will be some new riders on Boston's school buses. 

Each of the Boston Public School systems’s 750 school buses will be fit with two audio capable cameras. One will record the road, the other will record the students. 

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5:00 am
Fri July 18, 2014

How Did The Largest Collection Of Hemingway's Writings End Up In Boston?

A bust of Ernest Hemingway.


Ernest Hemingway was born near Chicago and died in Idaho. He immortalized 1920s Paris and introduced the world to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. He hunted big game in Africa, caught marlin off the Florida Keys, and spent decades living, writing -- and drinking -- in Cuba. 

So, why is the world's largest collection of his personal writings is located at the JFK library in Boston?

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8:31 am
Fri July 11, 2014

How 'Sex In A Box' Took America By Storm


By the time Neil W. Rabens actually received the patent for Twister in July of 1969, his invention had already been sold twice, and it was well on it's way to becoming an American pop-culture icon.

Rabens was a young commercial artist in the mid 1960s, when he was hired along with Chuck Foley to develop toys and games for a midwest design firm. One day Rabens came up with an innovative idea: What if we made a game where people were the pieces?

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9:59 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Quarries: 'A Tragedy Waiting To Happen'

Standing at a favorite jumping spot for swimmers, 10 stories high, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Hernan Melendez, looks down into the waters of the Quincy Quarry after a death in 1997.
Credit (AP Photo/Peter Lennihan)

Audio Pending...

Fourth of July weekend ended in tragedy in Milford when Nentor Dahn, 18, of Providence, RI died after jumping into the Fletcher Quarry. Fletcher is just one of many quarries in the area, and that got me wondering just how dangerous they are — and whether what happened in Milford is an all too common occurrence.

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6:00 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Why Are Massachusetts Gas Prices So High?

A sign shows gas prices at a gas station in Brighton.
Credit Brendan Lynch / WGBH News

If you’re gearing up to travel this Fourth of July weekend, you’ve probably noticed that gas is pricey. Boston area gas prices are currently averaging $3.78 a gallon, more than 20 cents higher than this time last year.

In fact, gas prices across the country are at their highest for a Fourth of July weekend since 2008.

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1:18 pm
Fri June 27, 2014

Burning Rubber In Mass.: The Obsession That Changed The World

Charles Goodyear

Charles Goodyear's obsession began one auspicious day in New York.

He’d always been a tinkerer and a new “miracle” substance, rubber, had caught his fancy. He’d developed an improved valve for a rubber life preserver he’s seen in a New York shop. When he proudly showed the shop owner his invention, the man let Goodyear in on a secret. This new miracle substance was about to go bust.

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11:24 am
Fri June 27, 2014

The Case Of The Disappearing Hard 'G': Jim Braude Does Not Pronounce Margery Eagan's Name Wrong

The mispronunciation of the name Margery Eagan often ends in fisticuffs (pictured here) between the two Boston Public Radio hosts.
Credit Will Roseliep / Flickr Creative Commons

The curse of King Tutankhamun's tomb, the disappearing Hope Diamond, Donald Trump's gravity-defying combover -- all of these are mysteries that have confounded and captivated audiences for centuries. Add this one to the list: Boston Public Radio host Jim Braude's inability to properly pronounce his co-host Margery Eagan's name. 

Allow us to explain.

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