Watch Johnny Carson joke about the toilet paper shortage

No, that isn't a deepfake. In 1973, the stock market crashed and an Arab oil embargo resulted in a gas crisis. With that as the context, a (false) rumor of a toilet paper shortage emerged and spread like wildfire via news outlets before it was further fueled by Johnny Carson (who later apologized). It's a fascinating story of shortage psychology and panic buying. From Priceonomics:

In November of 1973, several news agencies reported a tissue shortage in Japan. Initially, the release went unnoticed and nobody seemed to put much stock in it -- save for one Harold V. Froelich. Froelich, a 41-year-old Republican congressman, presided over a heavily-forested district in Wisconsin and had recently been receiving complaints from constituents about a reduced stream of pulp paper. On November 16th, he released his own press statement -- “The Government Printing Office is facing a serious shortage of paper” -- to little fanfare.

However, a few weeks later, Froelich uncovered a document that indicated the government’s National Buying Center had fallen far short of securing bids to provide toilet paper for its troops and bureaucrats. On December 11, he issued another, more serious press release: “The U.S. may face a serious shortage of toilet paper within a few months...we hope we don’t have to ration toilet tissue...a toilet paper shortage is no laughing matter. It is a problem that will potentially touch every American.”

In the climate of shortages, oil scares, and economic duress, Froelich’s claim was absorbed without an iota of doubt, and the media ran wild with it.

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Sound of motorcycle backfiring sparks panic in New York City's Times Square

At around 10pm last night in New York City's Times Square, the sound of backfiring motorcycles triggered panic and chaos. Listen below. I'd have run like hell too.

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This $300,000 Air Force One photo caused a panic in 2009

Here's a great backstory on the shot of Air Force One that cost a guy his job after commissioning an unannounced low-altitude flight around lower Manhattan. Read the rest

What the stampede at JFK airport tells us about fear

Travelers mishearing applause apparently triggered a full-scale "stampede" at JFK, complete with screaming crowds, people shouting about guns, and police running around aimlessly with weapons drawn. It was shut down for hours.

The fact that there was no attack at the center of it was both the weirdest and the scariest part — that an institution whose size and location and budget should make it a fortress, in a country that has spent 15 years focused compulsively on securing its airports, in a city with a terrifyingly competent anti-terror police unit, could be transformed into a scene of utter bedlam, stretching out from all eight terminals across the tarmac and onto the adjacent highways, by the whisper of a threat. ...

For several hours, we were in the flood of panic and chaos of an ongoing act of terror. There’s no other way to describe it. That it was an overreaction almost doesn’t matter; in fact, that is how terrorism works.

Hysterical fear was always the invisible counterweight to security theater. Each is as real as the other. Read the rest

Get high-end Fulltouch blackboard chalk from Japan before it disappears forever

The Blackwing of chalks, Fulltouch is beloved of mathematicians who despair now that the manufacturer, Hagoromo, is out of business.

Gizmodo's Sarah Zhang explains this legendary … chalk.

The first thing you notice is a shiny, clear coating on the outside — it feels like a thin layer of enamel. That sounds like a minor design element, but it cuts down on the biggest annoyance with chalk: dusty fingers.

Academics are breathless with awe at this incredible … chalk. Satyan Devadoss, a Williams College math professor, writes of the "Dream chalk."

There have been rumors about a dream chalk, a chalk so powerful that mathematics practically writes itself; a chalk so amazing that no incorrect proof can be written using this chalk. I can finally say, after months of pursuit, that such a chalk indeed exists.

I have just bought a $60 box of chalk.

I do not own a blackboard.

Hagoromo Fulltouch White Chalk 72pcs [Amazon referral link]

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Lithograph of the Salem Witch Trials

Joseph E. Baker's "Witch No. 1" (1892) is a stunning lithograph illustrating the imagined events that are part of the mythology of the horrific Salem Witch Trials of the late 17th century. To learn more, check out Smithsonian's "Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials." Read the rest