The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond is a large, blue diamond, currently housed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Its history can be traced to the “Tavernier Blue,” a crudely cut diamond of about 112 carats originally mined in India, which King Louis XIV of France later purchased and cut into “the Blue Diamond of the Crown,” or “the French Blue.” Legend has it that the Hope Diamond is cursed and causes misfortune to befall its possessors. How did it acquire this reputation? Discuss

The Cannes Film Festival

This prestigious international film festival is held annually in Cannes, France. It takes place at the Palais des Festivals, and its most illustrious award is the Palme d’Or—meaning “Golden Palm”—for the best film. First held in 1946, the festival marked a resurgence for the film industry, which had been shattered by World War II, and became a meeting place for those interested in the art and influence of the movies. Why wasn’t the festival held in either 1948 or 1950? Discuss

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a technique used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is thousands of years old and involves inserting fine metal needles into the skin at specially designated points along the 14 lines, or meridians, of the human body. Today, it is widely used in China in the treatment of headaches, ulcers, arthritis, and hypertension. It is also used as an anesthetic during childbirth and some types of surgery. To diagnose a patient, which body part does an acupuncturist examine? Discuss

The Great Sphinx of Giza

Near the pyramids of Giza, you can find the Great Sphinx—a massive statue bearing the head of a man and the body of a lion. It is located on the west bank of the Nile River, near modern-day Cairo, Egypt. The Sphinx is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and one of the world’s largest single-stone statues. It is believed that the ancient Egyptians built it about 4,500 years ago, possibly in honor of the pharaoh Khafre. What rumors surround the Great Sphinx’s missing nose? Discuss

Ice Dancing

In ice dancing, couples are required to perform choreographed dance routines on ice. It differs from pair skating in that it does not allow movements of strength, such as jumps or overhead lifts. Ice dance routines are similar to ballroom dances, and, typically, partners are not supposed to separate by more than two arm-lengths. The sport gained popularity in the 1930s, and the first world championships were held in 1950. When did ice dancing become an Olympic event? Discuss

Hemophilia

Hemophilia is a sex-linked genetic disease in which the body’s ability to control bleeding is impaired due to the absence or abnormality of a clotting factor in the blood. The two most common forms of the disease are caused by a genetic defect present on the X chromosome. Because females have two X chromosomes, whereas males have only one, females are more commonly carriers of the recessive disease while males tend to be the hemophiliacs. Why is hemophilia also called “the royal disease”? Discuss

Toothpaste

Though toothpaste as we know it today is only about a century old, dental hygiene has long concerned human beings. The ancient Greeks and Romans cleaned their teeth with abrasive mixtures using crushed bones and oyster shells, a far cry from the hydrogen peroxide-and-baking soda formulas of the 19th century. In 1892, American dentist Washington Sheffield became the first to sell toothpaste in a tube—today the standard in toothpaste packaging. What had inspired him to package it like that? Discuss

The Giant Panda

The black-and-white giant panda lives in the mountain forests of central China. Though it primarily feeds on bamboo, the bear-like mammal’s digestive system is similar to that of a carnivore, and it must therefore spend as much as 16 hours a day eating up to 40 lb (18 kg) of bamboo leaves, stems, and shoots in order to get enough nutrients. While adult giant pandas are certainly physically imposing, the “giant” part of their name also serves to differentiate them from what other kind of panda? Discuss

Saturn

The sixth planet from the Sun, Saturn is a gas giant and the second largest planet in the solar system after Jupiter. When viewed through a telescope, it is seen as a golden sphere. Saturn’s most remarkable feature is the system of rings that orbits it. Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune also have rings, but only those of Saturn are easily visible. Galileo first observed the rings in 1610, and astronomer Christiaan Huygens determined their true shape in 1659. What substances make up the rings? Discuss

The Tepee

The tepee was once a typical dwelling of Native North Americans of the Great Plains. Such structures usually consisted of conically arranged tent poles over which skins, often bison hide and occasionally elaborately decorated, would be tightly stretched. These dwellings provided strong shelter against the weather yet could also be easily dismantled and loaded onto pack animals when a tribe was on the move, making them ideal for nomadic hunters. How does a teepee differ from a wigwam? Discuss