Halloween candy science!

Candy does a lot of crazy stuff.

If you let gummi bears soak in water, they’ll grow to twice their normal size.

If you put M&M’s or Skittles in warm water, after a few minutes the letters float right off. The color’s gone, too, and you’re left with all-white candy.

As I mentioned before, Wint-O-Green Lifesavers can spark in your mouth. So can just plain sugar. To get the best look at it, crush the candy or sugar with pliers in a dark room after letting your eyes adjust. (Weirdest of all, ice will do it, too. You have to quickly take it out of a freezer and into a dark, hot room). It’s something about the breaking of the crystalline pattern, but nobody fully understands it.


This is what happens when you smash certain Lifesavers with a hammer. Image by Ted Kinsman, who clearly knows how to play Candy Crush better than anyone else.

Do you know of anything else candy can do?

Update: I did all these experiments and a few others with my nieces on Halloween, and they all work. Cool!

There are patterns everywhere.

Even in things that seem totally random, there are still elements of order. Life is all about order emerging from chaos. Patterns are inherent in reality.

Mathematics is the language of nature.

I found this via NPR. I feel the same way as Robert Krulwich:

Non-mathematicians miss all this. We see the flurry of what’s happening, not the tight logic underneath. But now comes this minute-and-a-half little video — a cheat sheet for math-challenged folks like me. It shows us what it’s like to look around as if we were Galileo or Einstein or that kid who always raised his hand first in math class … This is what they get to see …

Weird National Cat Day facts: Your cat has 3 eyelids and can outrun Usain Bolt

For National Cat Day (a holiday made up in 2005), the smartphone-enabled taxi service Uber teamed up with cheezburger.com to bring kittens on demand to people in Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles. You’d just ask using an app, and they’d bring one out for you to pet and enjoy for a while, then leave for the next person.

People love their cats, and cats love to be loved.


Hey, get back here.

But still, cats are so dang weird.

Another weird cat, named Bubs

Another weird cat, named Lil Bub

The top speed of an ordinary house cat is faster than the top speed of the fastest person in history, Usain Bolt.

usain bolt speed compared to other land animals_595x237

Not only that, but cats’ eyes have three eyelids — two normal outer ones, and a third one underneath that moves sideways. It works as a windshield wiper.

Is that weird?

No, it turns out that you’re weird for not having three. Most mammals and most birds have a third eyelid, but primates only have a vestigial remnant of it. It’s just like our tailbones are a reminder that many many generations ago, our ancestors had tails.


Most mammals and birds have these creepy secret sideways eyelids. This is how chickens blink.

The aluminum you throw away was once more precious than gold.


When the aluminum apex of the Washington Monument was put in place in 1884, it was the largest single piece of aluminum that had ever been cast anywhere in the world. It was nine inches tall and five and a half inches on a side. Aluminum was chosen for the apex because of its excellent qualities. At the time, a pound of aluminum cost about three weeks’ wages. For a time before that, aluminum was more precious than any other metal: Napoleon III served his most important guests with aluminum cutlery, and the less important ones with mere gold or silver.

Two years after the Washington monument was completed with its expensive lightning-rod aluminum cap, American chemist Charles Hall discovered a process that would soon make extracting aluminum cheap and easy.

Nowadays, we throw aluminum in the trash without even thinking about it.

Mmm, brownies

Just this morning, this worthless aluminum foil had precious, precious brownies on it.

(It’s still cheaper to reprocess it than it is to get it from ore, though, and that’s why they’ll pay you for bringing aluminum in for recycling. Find a nearby place to recycle aluminum — or anything else — at 1800recycling.com.)

Math is crazy: 1 = 0.9999…

There’s no difference between the number 1 and the seemingly smaller number 0.9999… (with 9 repeating endlessly). I used to think that there must be some tiny but key difference, but it turns out there just isn’t any. They seem different and are written differently, but they are the same.

Here’s one proof: Multiply 0.999999… by 10.

That’s 9.999999…

Then subtract 0.999999…

The result is 9.

What’s the difference between ten and nine?  One.

It’s true that the solution for 10x-x=9 is 1.

So 0.9999… = 1.  Weird!

Money does grow on trees after all.


The deep roots of eucalyptus trees have been found to be especially good at lifting traces of precious metals from deep underground. But other trees can do it too. (image source)

Australian scientists just discovered that eucalyptus trees, which can have roots more than 130 feet deep, sometimes have gold in their leaves. They suck up water from deep underground, and if there’s gold ore nearby, microscopic pieces of gold come up with it. That doesn’t make the trees a source of riches, but it does make it possible that prospectors could have a new way of locating gold. The same method will probably soon be applied to other valuable minerals in other parts of the world.

It also sounds like it offers a new reason to destroy forests to get at the stuff underneath them, which is a little less exciting.

Every breath you take holds a piece of a nuclear bomb.


If an old bottle of wine has no cesium-137, it’s probably from before the first nuclear reactor was built in 1942. (image source)

Today, it’s possible for wine experts to tell just how old a bottle of wine is by measuring the amount of radioactive material in the bottle. Traces of all the atomic bombs ever detonated still linger, scattered everywhere on Earth.

The atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 wiped out whole sections of two major cities and poisoned the area for decades.

Those bombs produced an isotope called cesium-137, which had never existed on Earth before. Today, there’s a little bit of cesium-137 everywhere. Most of the cesium comes from the more than 2,000 nuclear bombs that have been detonated in the years since the bombing of Japan. The tiny traces that are now everywhere aren’t enough to be harmful, but in high concentrations cesium-137 can do awful things to you and your children.

So far 8 countries have detonated nuclear bombs to test different designs and also because they like to watch stuff go boom. One American test in 1962 was undertaken to see if we could use a thermonuclear bomb to blow a big hole in the ground. Success! Mildly poisonous Sedan Crater is now on the National Register of Historic Places.


It’s hard to get a sense of the scale of Sedan Crater, but looking at the roads in the lower right gives an idea of its size. (image source)

The point of the test was to see if nuclear bombs could be used to excavate large areas of land to aid in mining efforts. Unfortunately, it was useless for mining and it also blasted radiation across the United States and exposed 13 million people to its effects (which were luckily fairly mild). That was the end of Operation Plowshare, America’s alternative-uses-for-nukes program.

The USSR had more stick-to-it-iveness and continued blowing nuclear holes in the ground until its demise. The Soviet program was called Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy, or NENE (an acronym which I’m sure is pronounced “ninny.”)