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Interesting Facts

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Duncan Hines was a real person.

Stroll through the baking aisle at any grocery store, and you’ll likely find instant cake mixes and containers of frosting emblazoned with the Duncan Hines name. But unlike other boxed mix competitors (looking at you, Betty Crocker), Hines was a real-life food personality whose name was once synonymous with fine dining. For a man who couldn’t cook, Hines became a surprisingly well-trusted authority on American cuisine for nearly three decades, all thanks to an iron stomach and fearless forays into restaurant kitchens.

Born in Kentucky in 1880, Hines worked as a traveling salesman from the ’20s through the ’40s, a life that didn’t allow for regular home-cooked meals. While putting anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 miles on the road each year, he kept a meticulous journal of his dining experiences, listing noteworthy restaurants that provided budget-friendly dishes. But Hines didn’t just review meals — at a time when health codes and food inspections weren’t yet standard, he went so far as to audit kitchens himself, monitoring food safety practices, cleanliness, and even examining the garbage.

Flooded with requests from fellow travelers, Hines attached a list of 167 restaurants to his 1935 Christmas card. A year later, he self-published Adventures in Good Eating, a comprehensive compendium of U.S. eateries that was updated annually until 1962. With each edition, Hines solidified his reputation for honest critiques, in part because he refused payment for good reviews (though he did profit from renting signs bearing his stamp of approval to restaurants, and once accepted a gifted Cadillac from a happy restaurant owner). By 1949, Hines had teamed up with businessman Roy Park to launch Hines-Park Foods, which sold under the Duncan Hines label — moving the reviewer’s name from print to the containers of more than 250 grocery items. The brand’s iconic boxed cake mixes debuted in July 1951 in just two flavors  — vanilla and devil’s food. Today, the cake mixes are beloved by many, even if the man who originally helped create them has been forgotten.

Tasted many a cake with his name on it!  :eat:

Scientists can figure out how old whales are by looking at their earwax.

Whales are some of the most majestic creatures on the planet. The blue whale is the largest animal to ever exist, the bowhead whale can live for more than 200 years, and a few humpback whales saved the future of humanity in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In fact, these creatures are so amazing that even their earwax is a vital tool — at least for helping scientists understand the mysterious mammals themselves. Take, for instance, the 10-inch-long earplug of an adult blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). Cetologists — scientists who study whales — can cut into a plug of earwax and learn the whale’s age, much as dendrochronologists do with tree rings. Earwax from blue whales (and other large whales such as humpbacks) forms rings, known as “laminae,” every six months, which give scientists a snapshot of the creature’s entire life through cycles of summer feeding and winter migration.

And these waxy earplugs can tell scientists more than just a whale’s age. Earplugs also capture a chronological “chemical biography” that shows what chemicals and pollutants were found in the animal’s body throughout its life, including levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Scientists have compared whale cortisol levels with whaling data, using records from 1870 to 2016, and found an unmistakable positive correlation. The only discrepancy was during World War II, when whale stress levels increased despite a decrease in whaling overall (scientists assume increased military activity was the likely culprit). Despite a near-international moratorium on whaling in the 1980s, whales still exhibit high cortisol levels thanks to increased ship noise, climate change, and other factors. But with the help of whale earwax, scientists can at least continue to examine the health of these majestic beasts and the oceans they inhabit.

Medieval Scotland had a practice similar to modern battle rap, called “flyting.”

Today, sharp-tongued verbal jousting primarily exists in the art form known as battle rap, in which two rappers take lyrical aim at each other with intricate (and often devastating) rhymes. During these battles, no insult — artistic or otherwise — is off-limits, and that’s a sentiment that 15th- and early 16th-century Scottish poets might have shared. Medieval Scottish men of words linguistically barbed each other in a practice known as “flyting” (based on the Old English word flītan, meaning “to quarrel”), often as entertainment for the Scottish king and his royal court. The most famous of these “battles” that still survives, known as “The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie,” featured Scottish poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy entertaining the court of James IV in the early 16th century. Among its many famous attributes, it’s the first recorded moment of scatalogical humor. (One of the more family-friendly examples of its insults, translated from Middle Scots, reads: “Grovel for grace, dog-face, or I shall chase you all winter; Howl and yowl, owl.”)

The biting lyricism of flyting wasn’t restricted to Scotland, of course. Ancient Irish professional poets, called filid, were also known for their insults, and a form of flyting can be found in Old English literature as well as the famous Norse text the Poetic Edda (in which the trickster god Loki goes on the verbal offensive against his fellow deities). Similar art forms can be found in Japan, Nigeria, parts of the Middle East, and elsewhere. Although flyting didn’t survive the Middle Ages, its influence can be seen in works ranging from Shakespeare to James Joyce. Thankfully, the birth of the rap battle in the 1980s once again provided a much-needed venue for settling serious artistic beef — and it’s been a fixture of hip-hop culture ever since.

Learned a lot about whales that I didn't know and a little more about the 'verbal warfare' history.  :thumbup:


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