From Artful Money Laundering to Dehydrated Cheese Powder: This Week's Curios

Every day of the year, CEO Justin Kitch writes a quirky fact, known as the Daily Curio, intended to tickle the brains of lifelong learners everywhere. This is a weekly digest.

Last week’s Curios covered bumblebee drama, artful money laundering, and the blackest shade of black in the world.

Curio No. 962 | The art of money laundering
Laundering money is more of an art than a science. As in, buy art if you want to launder money. Almost every bank in the world has to report transactions of greater than $10,000 to the authorities. Same goes for real estate transactions, gambling earnings, stock sales and cash transfers. But almost every large art purchase still lists the buyer and seller as “private collection” with no questions asked. For white collar criminals, this is a dream come true. That’s because–starting with the art boom of the 1980’s–high-priced artwork tends to hold or increase its value. Plus there’s no easy way for authorities to track it…. keep reading.

Curio No. 961 | So are you into Mechanical Dance Music?
Musical composers are a particular bunch. They have been known to commission or even make instruments to get the perfect sound for their compositions. In that regard, the Wintergatan Marble Machine takes the cake. Martin Molin–a Swedish composer, rock band member, and music box enthusiast–built the Wintergatan Marble Machine to play just one song. Which he composed, of course. It has 3,000 internal parts and contains drums, a bass, and a vibraphone. All of which are played by 2000 marbles, powered by a hand crank and two giant wooden wheels! The mechanical Rube-Goldberg-like contraption took Molin two years to build… keep reading.

Curio No. 960 | A bumblebee drama in three acts
They should be called bumbleteens. Every bumblebee you see is part of an epic coming-of-age drama. Bumblebees, like other eusocial insects, live in a caste-based colony with specialization of labor. But it plays more like a Greek tragedy in three acts. ACT ONE: each spring, colonies are initiated by adolescent queen bees, who have been hibernating since mating with males the autumn before. Starving, she searches for a nest and enough pollen to generate the body heat required to make her eggs grow. Once she finds a spot and enough pollen, she lays her fertilized eggs… keep reading.

Curio No. 959 | The open and Shud case of Somerton man
On December 1, 1948, a dead man was found on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia. He was in tip-top physical shape and dressed to the nines. In his pockets were several ordinary items: a pack of cigarettes, a box of matches, a metal comb, some chewing gum. Slightly less ordinary: an unused railway ticket, a bus ticket, and a slip of paper that read “Tamám Shud.” Nothing could be found to identify the man, leading the media to dub him “Somerton man.” Even the labels on his clothing had been removed. An autopsy revealed the man had died from liver and spleen congestion consistent with poisoning. Yet no poison was found in his system… keep reading.

Curio No. 958 | The blackest black paint ever
Talk about painting it black. A British nanomaterial company has created the blackest black paint ever. Vantablack, short for Vertically Aligned Nanotube Array black, absorbs 99.96% of light. It’s technically a coating, not a paint. Here’s how it works: carbon nanotubes (CNTs) with walls one atom thick, are arranged in a pattern that allows photons to enter the material with almost no reflection. Once the photons are inside or between the CNTs, they bounce around until they are converted to heat. Only .05% of photons that strike the material escape. The effect is apparently stunning, like looking at nothingness… keep reading.

Curio No. 957 | Thank WWII for Doritos Locos Tacos
War is awful. But humanity’s need to fight is responsible for many important technological advances in history. If it weren’t for the military, you’d be reading this Curio through the mail or in a newspaper. But make sure to add food science to your list of thank you notes to the military. Military food science advancements include juice boxes, Wonder bread, refrigerated guacamole, and Power Bars. And don’t forget dehydrated cheese powder–the stuff that gets on your fingers when you eat Cheetos. During World War II, a US government scientist, trying to get troops across the Pacific enough calories, developed dehydrated cheese powder… keep reading.

Curio No. 956 | Salem witchcraft or rye-bread-acid trips?
Hasn’t rye bread suffered enough? Now it’s being blamed for the Salem Witch Trials. In 1692, over 200 girls were accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. 20 were put to death. History teaches us these events were the result of harsh religious rule, mass hysteria, and rumor-mongering. Except a growing body of evidence points to ergot, an LSD-like fungus that grows on rye grain and bread, as the root of the commotion. When humans ingest ergot-infected rye, they hallucinate and act very strangely. So strangely that observers, if already inclined to believe in dark magic, might think they were possessed… keep reading.

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