Question of the Day


Why were butter churns made out of mountain ash?

To repel witches. Many farmers believed that the wood of the mountain ash, or "wiggin," would keep their farms safe from witches' mischief.

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Last 7 Days

What does the term "buckdancer's choice" mean, and what is its origin?

A buck dance, or buckdance, generally refers to a dance done solo. For instance, the buck-and-wing is a solo tap dance that originated in the South. The term also may have come from a ceremonial dance performed by a Native American wearing the costume of a male animal such as a deer or antelope, known as a buck. "Buckdancer's choice," then, would seem to refer to a solo dancer's own style or choice of dance to be performed.

Have we always had Daylight Saving Time?

In the United States, Daylight Saving Time was first begun on March 31, 1918, during World War I. This plan provided more light for the evening hours, thereby saving fuel for the war effort. Since then, Daylight Saving Time has been used on and off, with different start and end dates. Currently, Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 A.M. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2:00 A.M. on the first Sunday in November.

Is it true that Benjamin Franklin invented an odometer?

Yes. While Franklin (1706-90) was postmaster in Philadelphia, he created an odometer to measure postal route distances and attached the contraption to his carriage. However, other inventors preceded him. Roman engineer Vitruvius (1st century B.C.) once described an odometer. He is generally credited as the first inventor, although some historians believe that the actual creator was Greek scientist Archimedes (c.287-212 B.C.). 1st century Greek scientist Heron (aka Hero) of Alexandria also described an odometer in his work Dioptra. Chinese scholar Zhang (aka Chang) Heng (78-139 A.D.), invented an odometer, as well. French scientist Blaise Pascal (1623-62) came up with an odometer prototype called the Pascaline, and English engineer Thomas Savery (c.1650-1715) invented an odometer for ships.

What is lactose?

Lactose is a light sweetener and carbohydrate found only in milk. Any product made with milk contains lactose. Bacteria turn lactose to lactic acid, and that's when milk turns sour. Some people cannot tolerate lactose and must avoid milk products.

Does high-octane gasoline provide better gas mileage than regular?

High-octane gas will not give you better gas mileage. It may, however, quiet your car's engine by burning cleaner than regular gasoline. According to the American Automobile Association, only about 5 percent of cars sold in the United States really need to use premium gas. If you've been using high-octane gas and want to save money, buy a tankful of regular and listen to the engine as you drive. If you hear your engine "knocking," go back to premium. If there is no knock, you've found a money-saving trick.

Are you supposed to eat kumquats whole, peel and all? Are there any other citrus fruits that are eaten whole?

Kumquats are the size of large olives and have sweet skin with slightly bitter flesh. They can be eaten whole, skin and all, and you can also buy them bottled in syrup. We don't know of any other citrus fruits that you can eat whole.

Sirius seemed to be blinking a lot in late September. I also think it blinked from green to red and white. Is this some new phase Sirius is in?

Nothing has changed with Sirius. You just observed an unusual amount of twinkling. Earth's atmosphere is not uniform, but instead has cells of different densities and temperatures. As starlight passes through the atmosphere, the light beam is constantly redirected by refraction, and since the cells are in motion, the path of light is changing all the time. The jumping around is one aspect of twinkling, called "seeing." The other aspect, called "scintillation," is changes in brightness and color.

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