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The science of eggnog

Actually, it's technically the science of creme brulee, but, more broadly, the science of custard totally applies. Also, in one of those "oh-geez-that-should-have-occurred-to-me-a-long-time-ago" moments, it turns out that the only thing that separates eggnog and ice cream is bourbon and some time in a freezer. Maggie 13

A splendid little secular Christmas carol

I just discovered Tim Minchin's "White Wine in the Sun". I'm sure a lot of you have heard this before, but it's a lovely Christmas song and, frankly, the first Christmas song to actually make me cry. Especially that last verse. For a new parent, it's an emotional doozy. Really, overall, just a great song for people who aren't religious, but enjoy a religious holiday for the cultural traditions and the time it allows you to spend with people you love. (Even though, personally, I'd rather have dinner with Desmond Tutu than Richard Dawkins.)

Who put the "X" in "Xmas"

Turns out, it was the Greeks. Χριστος is how you write "Christ" in Greek and writers (including people who transcribed the Bible) have been using "X" as a convenient abbreviation of that since at least the 3rd and 4th centuries. Maggie 38

What did Santa really look like?

The bones of St. Nicholas (or, at least, his purported relics) rest in the crypt of in Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy. They've been disinterred, measured, and documented, and over the years various anatomists and forensic anthropologists have taken a stab at reconstructing what the real Santa might have looked like. The results vary widely. Why?

In 2010, Caroline Wilkinson of the Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification at the UK's University of Dundee wrote an easy-to-read (and publicly accessible) research paper about the flaws of facial reconstruction techniques — flaws that are exacerbated when all you have to go on are dry bones.

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Science Geek Advent calendar

Yes, it's five days into Advent, but you should still check out the Science Geek Advent calendar from Science Creative Quarterly — featuring reindeer parasites, festive lobsters, Christmas trees in space and more cool stuff. Maggie 4

What happens to turkey feathers after the turkey becomes Thanksgiving dinner?

For clarification, it's Big Bird that is made out of turkey feathers. Not Pat Nixon.

How turkeys fly

Turkeys do fly. But they're built more for running, with powerful legs. Those legs, though, come in handy when the birds do take to the air. Unlike other large birds that need a relatively long runway to launch themselves skyward, turkeys can basically just jump up and take off — sort of the helicopter to other birds' 747. Maggie 16

Happy Dinosaur Dissection Day!

When you cut apart your Thanksgiving turkey this year, let's all take a moment to remember the other animals that once fed on dinosaurs — including ancient giant squirrels, sharks, and (of course) other dinosaurs. Maggie 3

A holiday reminder

Eating turkey doesn't make you sleepy — it's all the booze and over-eating that does that. Maggie 7

DIY Halloween: Baby Jackhammer Jill

This year, my husband, Chris, and I made a baby and a costume to put her in. Here, Althea Koerth Baker, 4 days old, shows off her Halloween costume and her ability to tolerate parental shenanigans.

Celebrate Ada Lovelace Day by adding more female scientists to Wikipedia

October 15 is Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of women in science and engineering, centered around the lady who is credited with publishing the first computer programs ever written. What does one do for Ada Lovelace Day? How about spending some time editing Wikipedia? There's an official edit-a-thon in honor of the holiday, aimed at improving and increasing Wikipedia's coverage of women in the sciences. Maggie 7

Happy Sysadmin Day, Ken!


It's Sysadmin Day! Time to publicly state aloud that which I say in my mind every day: THANK YOU, KEN! The Ken in question is Ken Snider, Boing Boing's intrepid, tireless, magnificent systems administrator -- awakened at all hours to fix things, cheerful night and day. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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The scientific history of Independence Day

The American founding fathers weren't just presidents, they were also members — of the science fan club, that is. In fact, we owe a lot to 17th and 18th-century pop science, and how it shaped the beliefs of the people who shaped this country. For some timely science reading go along with tomorrow's holiday, check out Kitty Ferguson's piece at Nautilus. Maggie 1

Celebrate the first interplanetary holiday!

Tonight is Yuri's Night — a holiday celebrating the first human spaceflight. You can throw a Yuri's Night party yourself, or simply join one of the 340 parties that are already scheduled. Scheduled events range from the ubiquitous "let's drink vodka shots in a Russian restaurant" to more kid-friendly, telescope-centric themes. And this year, you can even virtually join the Mars Curiosity Rover as it throws itself the first Yuri's Night party to be held on another planet. (Which, frankly, sounds a little lonely and sad, so hopefully people turn up for the virtual side of that shindig.) Maggie

In which Charles Darwin gets trolled

From Darwin's diary written aboard the HMS Beagle, an accounting of an epic April Fool's prank of 1832. Knowing what I know about 19th-century sailors, this seems like a good way to get beaten up. Maggie