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Quick Takes

Illustration by Gertrude Wilkening

Quick Takes
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Ignoble science

Three University of Utah researchers can now call themselves Ig Nobel laureates after taking home the satirical Ig Nobel Peace Prize awarded Sept. 9 by the Annals of Improbable Research. Professors David Carrier and Steven Naleway earned their plaudits along with recent graduate Ethan Beseris for a 2020 study looking into whether beards serve the evolutionary purpose of protecting men’s jaws from punches to the face. Carrier said he questioned whether to accept the dubious award at first. For 31 years, the Annals of Improbable Research has highlighted bizarre scientific studies with the award series modeled as the antithesis of the Nobel Prizes. “I’m quite happy at this point. There was trepidation at first, but now that’s gone,” Carrier said, noting asking out-of-the box questions is an important part of science. Authors of the 10 winning papers receive counterfeit currency and a build-it-yourself trophy.

Subway shutdown

Investigators in New York said Sept. 10 the multi-hour shutdown of several subway lines in August was likely caused by someone pressing an “Emergency Power Off” switch. The August outage idled more than 80 trains along several of the city’s transit lines, leading to stranded passengers and mass confusion. State investigators say they believe the plastic guard over the button, meant to prevent such accidents, was missing.

Stuck in the Suez

For the second time this year, a shipping vessel has gotten stuck in the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal Authority reported Sept. 9 the 738-foot-long bulk carrier Coral Crystal became lodged after running aground in the canal. Unlike the grounding of the Ever Given in March, tugboats were able to pull the Coral Crystal free with minimal disruption to traffic in the canal linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Canal spokesman George Safwat said roughly 3.2 million tons of cargo traversed the canal on that day and the grounding didn’t impede traffic.

Road ready or not

There’s a small problem with the Netherlands’ newest military trucks: They’re not legal to drive on Dutch roads. The Dutch military purchased 1,600 utility trucks earlier this year to haul 8-foot-tall containers for the European nation’s defense forces. Upon closer inspection, officials with the Ministry of Defense announced the new trucks are just slightly taller than the 4-meter (or 13.1-foot) limit on the nation’s roads. Dutch defense officials say they’re working to solve the problem. In the meantime, Minister of Defense Ank Bijleveld has asked the nation’s legislature for an exemption.

Grounded lawmaker

Alaska Airlines banned an Alaskan lawmaker in April for refusing to wear a mask on a flight, and now she says she cannot reach the state capital of Juneau for Senate votes. On Sept. 9, Republican state Sen. Lora Reinbold of Anchorage filed a request with the lawmaking body to excuse her from business at the state Capitol until she can find a way to travel there. Set in the Alexander Archipelago, Alaska’s capital is inaccessible by car and only sparsely served by airlines. Reinbold had recently used Delta to reach Juneau by connecting through Seattle. But as of Sept. 11, that route shuttered for the season, leaving Alaska Airlines as the only provider of flights between Anchorage and Juneau. Last April, she also traveled overland through Canada and then took a ferry to reach Juneau.

A house of cards

A Los Angeles area mansion considered the most expensive home in the world will soon hit the open market after the house’s developer went bankrupt. In September, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge placed the 105,000-square-foot property into receivership after its owner, developer Nile Niami, defaulted on $165 million in loans. In 2017, real estate watchers expected the Bel Air mansion with a 4,000-square-foot master bedroom suite to list for $500 million. But construction at the 8-acre site ground to a halt under the weight of Niami’s growing money problems. Last year, Niami listed his own Beverly Hills mansion for sale for $100 million, but ultimately only received $38 million for the residence. The most expensive home sold in Los Angeles is a Beverly Hills estate Amazon founder Jeff Bezos purchased last year for $165 million.

Centenarian lobsterwoman

While most 101-year-olds are decades into retirement, Virginia Oliver is still hard at work. The Maine centenarian still works three days a week on a lobster boat doing roughly the same work she’s done since she was a young girl just before the Great Depression. Between May and November, Oliver helps process lobsters by measuring the animals caught and throwing back crustaceans that are too small to keep. Working alongside her 78-year-old son Max, Oliver is also responsible for banding lobsters’ claws and sometimes steers the lobster boat if it’s not too foggy. Some urged her to quit, but Oliver says she’ll keep lobstering until she dies. “And the doctor said to me, ‘What are you out there lobstering for?’” Oliver told CBS News. “And I said, ‘Because I want to.’”

Missing teeth

It wasn’t their most important case ever, but troopers with the Illinois State Police were able to reunite a state fair patron with a set of lost dentures Sept. 6. In a social media posting, the state police said another fairgoer found a set of dentures in the Conservation World section of the fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. After posting a picture of the dentures in a clear cup of water, the owner of the teeth contacted troopers to lay claim to the property.

Planking through pain

An Australian man has shattered the Guinness World Record for longest plank, holding himself in the painful abdomen-straining position for 9 hours, 30 minutes, and 1 second. Daniel Scali, who made his world-record attempt in Adelaide, Australia, in August, said he began feeling pain in his arms after 14 minutes. But for Scali, who developed chronic pain syndrome after injuring his arm when he was 12, pain was something he could endure. For the challenge, Scali had to hold his body straight while resting all his weight on his elbows and toes for the duration of the challenge. The previous record of 8 hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds was set by American 62-year-old George Hood last year. “It was only recently, when I’ve grown up, [that I’m] accepting the cards I’ve been dealt and using them to my advantage,” he told Guinness.


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