Silent Film

Before the technology that incorporates sound into film was developed, films had no synchronized sound for dialogue. Instead, graphic titles were used to clarify the on-screen situation to the audience, and live music was often featured. This music, frequently improvised by a piano player, was viewed as an essential part of the moviegoing experience, as it provided the audience with vital emotional cues for the action taking place on screen. What famous animated film is considered a silent film? Discuss

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a set of three spectacular waterfalls located on the US-Canadian border. The Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls are renowned for their beauty, and Niagara Falls as a whole is both a valuable source of hydroelectric power and a challenging project for environmental preservation. It is also a popular site for daredevils. In 1901, Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to go over the falls in a barrel. She survived and had what to say about the experience? Discuss

The Breakers

Built to serve as the summer home of American socialite and businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the Breakers is a 70-room mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. The home was constructed in the 1890s at a cost of more than $12 million and is deemed the archetype of the Gilded Age, during which socially ambitious Americans sought to imitate the European aristocracy. Today, it is Rhode Island’s most visited attraction. Why did Vanderbilt insist that wood not be used in the Breakers’ construction? Discuss

Les Misérables

Les Misérables is a novel by Victor Hugo that focuses on the life of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict struggling to redeem himself. It examines the nature of good and evil, delving into French history, politics, moral philosophy, law, and the nature of love. Published in 1862, the novel helped make Hugo the most successful writer of his day. Now, more than 150 years later, the book and its many adaptations continue to resonate with the public. What did critics first think of it? Discuss

Olga Korbut: The Sparrow from Minsk

Korbut was a Soviet gymnast who made a splash at the 1972 Munich Olympics when she took home three gold medals and a silver medal. Diminutive and charismatic, she was the first person ever to do a backward aerial somersault on the balance beam and the first to perform a backward release move on the uneven parallel bars. She greatly increased the popularity of gymnastics and influenced the sport’s turn toward a more athletic, powerful style. What two gymnastics moves did Korbut invent? Discuss

The Orchid

The unusually large orchid family consists of some 450 genera and at least 10,000 species. Orchids grow most abundantly in tropical and subtropical forests and are among the most highly prized ornamental plants. Since being imported from the Bahamas to Britain in the 18th century, these flowers have been cultivated for their commercial value and have been successfully hybridized and variegated. Their name comes from the Greek word orkhis—or “testicle”—after the appearance of what feature? Discuss

eBay

In 1995, computer programmer Pierre Omidyar founded AuctionWeb in San Jose, California. One of its first sales was a broken laser pointer. However, what began humbly as a hobby for Omidyar grew rapidly. In 1997, Omidyar changed the site’s name to eBay—a contraction of Echo Bay Technology Group—and it has since become the premier online auction site, with millions of items listed, bought, and sold daily. Essentially unregulated at first, eBay now prohibits the sale of what items on its site? Discuss

Elasmotherium: Unicorns of Old

The mythical unicorn may have been inspired in part by real-life creatures—members of the extinct genus Elasmotherium, comprising single-horned, giant rhinoceroses that roamed what is now Siberia and southern Russia during the Pleistocene ice age, which began 1.8 million years ago. Having some of the attributes of horses, they were herbivorous like most other rhinoceroses and had molar teeth that never stopped growing. How long were their supposedly enormous horns? Discuss

The Tenets of Sikhism

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in northern India when the guru Nanak broke from orthodox Hinduism in the 16th century. Thus, though the religions have commonalities—for example, both believe in a cycle of reincarnation that is impacted by one’s actions—Sikhism rejects certain Hindu beliefs, like caste distinctions and asceticism. Nanak’s doctrine also stipulates that meditation must be inward and devoid of external aids. What are the “Five Thieves” that Sikhs are obliged to conquer? Discuss

Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo, a principality of Monaco, is a resort town located on the French Riviera. It is known as a playground for the rich and famous, thanks to its breathtaking scenery, fine villas, luxurious hotels, and world-famous casino—which has long been a source of intrigue. Joseph Jagger first broke the bank after discovering a bias in one of the roulette wheels in 1873, and the casino has since been featured in several James Bond films. What famous sporting events are held in Monte Carlo? Discuss