Ted's Fun & Games Popular Misconceptions


  1. Q: Chop suey is a Chinese dish.
    No.  The Chinese had many vegetable dishes; but chop suey (chopped leftovers) as we know it originated as meals for workers on the American transcontinental railroad construction project.
  2. Q: A police officer has the legal right to commandeer your automobile.
    No.  In California, for example, no one ever has been convicted or even prosecuted for failure to surrender a vehicle.  The only possibly pertinent law is the doctrine of posse comitatus, which requires one to assist in the pursuit and apprehension of certain suspects.  In contrast, there are laws enabling the FBI to commandeer autos belonging to local police departments.
  3. Q: A stock split increases the value of that stock.
    "Oh, boy!  My stock has split!"  One has heard that many times.  So what?  Doubling the number of shares at half the price per share, for example, is a net zero change in value.  The fact of a split, however, does suggest that the stock has performed well in the recent past, and the seemingly attractive reduction of share price can result in a temporary spike created by unsophisticated investors.
  4. Q: Hypnosis is a form of mind control.
    No.  This technique is useful in exploring a mind, but it does not facilitate the control of one.  No person under the influence can be forced to do anything contrary to his/her values.
  5. Q: Log cabins are not as strong as conventional homes.
    In fact, log cabins have been shown to be up to eight times as strong as the average home.  If a tornado comes by, I want one of those.  Certain strength-oriented zoning prohibitions against log cabins have been shown in courts to be misguided.
  6. Q: The stripes on an African tiger are black.
    No.  See #23.
  7. Q: The 21st century began on January 1, 2000.
    Despite all the millennium parties at the wrong time, the simple arithmetic facts are irrefutable.  Year 1 a.d. directly followed year 1 b.c.  There was no year zero; it would have been nonsensical to number a year as such, and it didn't happen.  Moreover, most cultures of the day had not yet even embraced the concept of zero (example: Roman numerals).  No, the 1st Century a.d. began on January 1, year 1 a.d.  A century is, by definition, 100 full years, and a millennium is 1000 years.  Therefore, the 2nd Century began exactly 100 years later, at the beginning of year 101.  Similarly, the 21st Century and third millennium began exactly 2,000 years later — on January 1, 2001.
    My favorite question from the quiz show Jeopardy! was posed in 2002 or 2003: "What was the site of the last Summer Olympics in the Twentieth Century?"  Two contestants named Atlanta (1996).  The winner correctly identified Sydney (2000).
  8. Q: Water conducts electricity.
    Water itself is a non-conductor; it's the minerals and impurities that enable electricity to travel.
  9. Q: On average, winters are colder in the northern hemisphere.
    No.  It so happens that, due to the angle of the earth's axis, winters north of the equator occur when the earth is nearest the sun in its orbit; summer occurs when the planet is most distant.  The seasons are thereby tempered.  In the southern hemisphere, it's a different story.  There, summer occurs when the earth is closest to the sun, etcetera, causing greater extremes in temperature.
  10. Q: Your automobile tires do not conduct electricity.
    Your tires are conductors, not insulators.  In a lightning storm you are relatively safe in a vehicle, but only because the electricity will take the easiest path to the ground — that is, through the tires.  For the record, pure rubber is a non-conductor; but your tires aren't made of that.  Also, many materials oscillate between conductor and non-conductor, depending upon their temperatures.
  11. Q: Cholesterol is bad.
    Not necessarily.  The human body produces cholesterol naturally; it is needed for cell-wall functioning and the production of hormones.  It's the stuff that is added via your rotten diet that is bad.
  12. Q: A pound of gold weighs more than a pound of feathers.
    No.  See #31.
  13. Q: The © character is a required component of a valid copyright.
    By law, a copyright consists of three items: the word copyright, a name, and a date.  Although not actually supported by the federal law, the © character is generally considered a legally acceptable substitute for the word copyright.  In light of that, the widespread practice of using the two components together is redundant — and unenlightened.
  14. Q: Citizens of India worship cows regularly.
    The cow is venerated because of its perceived association with the Hindu deity, Krishna, and there are some related rituals; however, cows are not a regular feature of religious practice in India.
  15. Q: There is no such thing as an infinite number.
    TRUE!  There are numbers, which are finite by definition, and there is infinity, which is not a number.  No well-spoken scientist ever would utter a phrase such as, "an infinite number of so-and-so", preferring instead to say, "infinitely many this-and-that".
  16. Q: Wealth is destroyed during a stock-market decline.
    This nonsense can be heard and read regularly in the financial media, but the analysts seem to confuse the monetary value of stocks with money itself.  In fact, at the end of a down-day in the market, buyers own more shares and less money, while sellers own fewer shares and more money.  The total amount of money is unchanged.  It is a zero-sum game.  Your wealth might have vanished, but someone else's was increased commensurately.
  17. Q: Marijuana usage leads to hard drugs.
    Yeah, and mother's milk leads to alcoholism, too.
  18. Q: Coffee reduces drunkenness.
    Coffee might temporarily increase awareness, but it has no effect upon the blood-alcohol level.  The only cure for inebriation is sufficient time for normal bodily processing of the offending chemicals.
  19. Q: It is improper to end a sentence with a preposition.
    There is no such rule, and such a restriction would have undesirable effects.  Some do-gooders erroneously felt that English should be bound by archaic Latin protocols, but that language thankfully is dead.  (See my Soapbox article on Speaking Well.)
  20. Q: Black and white are colors.
    Black is not actually a color; technically speaking, it is the absence of any wavelengths of the visible light spectrum.  Similarly, white is the presence of all such wavelengths, or all colors combined.
  21. Q: A light-year is a measurement of time.
    Contrary to Captain Kirk's moronic usage of the term in an old Star Trek episode, a light year is, in fact, a measurement of the distance that light travels in a year — approximately 6 trillion miles.
  22. Q: Many candy bars can be purchased for .89¢ or less.
    No one actually would sell you anything at the indicated price of 89/100 of a cent each, or 100 items for 89 cents!  Countless (sic!) such advertising displays are created by decimally challenged sign-makers, and most such errors pass unnoticed by an equally dense clientele.  Perhaps a similar two-decimal error on those folks' paychecks would be noticed.  The misconception is that .89¢ somehow is the same as $.89 — in other words, that a penny equals a dollar!
  23. Q: The stripes on an African tiger are yellow.
    There are no tigers in Africa.
  24. Q: Potatoes are fattening.
    No.  Carbohydrates are the body's choice of energy source, and potatoes are no exception.  It's the butter and other toppings that put on the kilograms.
  25. Q: Florida is America's southernmost state.
    The Hawaiian Islands extend over 300 miles farther south than Key West, Florida.
  26. Q: A person cannot testify against his/her spouse in an American court of law.
    Numerous idiotic movie plots have been based upon this false premise (including the relatively recent and otherwise credible offering, "Rising Sun").  If it were true, no one ever could testify on her/his own behalf in a divorce or spousal-abuse case, among others.  In fact, the law is designed to prevent a spouse from being compelled to so testify; there is no restriction on voluntary action.  Moreover, in many states, said exemption applies only to criminal proceedings (not civil) and only to actions that occurred within the duration of the marriage.
  27. Q: Sherlock Holmes famously said, "Elementary, my dear Watson."
    Some movie characters have uttered that line, but the quote is not found in any of Arthur Conan Doyle's books.
  28. Q: There are many species of dogs.
    In fact, there are no such species.  All breeds of dogs are classified as wolves.  Dog lovers' attempts to have their animals regarded as independent species have been unsuccessful, because at the genetic level there is no known scientific way to differentiate a dog from a wolf.
  29. Q: An Internet web page lacking a copyright designation is legally unprotected.
    By modern U.S. law, all original material on a web site (or anywhere else, for that matter) automatically is the legal property of its creator, unless that person has specifically donated a work to the public domain — after which no one may copyright it.  Of course, there are issues regarding the reproduction of materials owned by others, whether for profit or not.
  30. Q: Ostriches bury their heads in the sand.
    This well-worn myth is just that.  Ostriches have been known to lie down and place their necks and heads flat upon the ground in times of crisis; but that is all.
  31. Q: A pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold.
    TRUE!  Gold is measured using troy weight.  A troy pound is equal to 373 grams.  At least in the English-speaking world, virtually everything other than gold, silver, and gemstones is measured by the avoirdupois standard, wherein a pound is equal to 453 grams.  So, pertinent pound to pertinent pound, the feathers are more than 20% heavier than the gold!  For the record, however, a troy pound is comprised of just 12 ounces, compared to 16 in the avoirdupois measurement.  So an ounce of gold does weigh more than an ounce of feathers.
  32. Q: Every day ends at midnight.
    What's in a name?  The answer to this question, that's what.  Midnight is 12:00 a.m.  That suffix stands for ante meridian, or before the noon, and days clearly do not end before noon.  In fact, they logically begin at midnight, just as hours begin on the hour not some arbitrary fraction of a second later.
  33. Q: The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow.
    No.  The primary colors are red, blue, and green.  Mixing those hues of light at highest intensity levels produces white, the combination of all colors.  If you were to stare closely at a television screen, you would be able to see the little groupings of three lights — red, blue, and green.  In contrast, red, blue and yellow are the primary pigments, used for mixing paint.
  34. Q: A koala is a bear.
    Not only is it not a bear, but this eucalyptus-eating tree-dweller is a marsupial; it doesn't even have the same plumbing as a bear.
  35. Q: The recent stock-market bubble was not identifiable as such at the time.
    Despite Alan Greenspan's feigned surprise regarding the bubble spawned by his own agency — the Federal Reserve, a number of competent analysts of the day issued repeated warnings about it.  (See my Soapbox article on the Future of the Economy.)
  36. Q: The earth is round.
    Due to the earth's rotation on its axis, centrifugal force causes the planet to bulge in the middle, creating an oblong shape — not a spherical, 'round' one.  The equator is 42 miles longer than a circumference encompassing the North and South Poles.
  37. Q: When Monte Hall offered to let a contestant swap doors, there was no advantage in doing so.
    There being three doors, the original chance of guessing correctly was 1 in 3.  On Let's Make A Deal, the moderator never opened the door to the big prize; therefore, one of the contestant's losing options had been eliminated, and one of the remaining choices was a guaranteed winner.  As no subsequent event could possibly affect the original odds, the original choice retained a 1-in-3 likelihood.  This means that the other doors had a collective 2-in-3 probability of success; so swapping would win twice as often.  This is the so-called Monte Hall Paradox, which itself is a misnomer.  Since the pertinent math is readily explainable, no paradox exists.
  38. Q: Your car gets better mileage at 20 mph than at 40 mph.
    Nope.  The actual speed for best mileage varies from one vehicle to the next, but factors such as inertia enter into the equation.  For most cars, the "sweet spot" is in the range of 40-50 miles per hour.
  39. Q: Ben Franklin's kite was struck by lightning.
    Franklin's experiment involved collecting some of the electrical charge that leaks through the air during thunderstorms.  The kite and twine became charged, and the twine was used to charge a metal key from which sparks could be drawn.  From this test, Franklin surmised that lightning itself was a big electrical spark.  Had the kite actually been struck by lightning, our greatest American might well have been killed instantly.
  40. Q: Humans use only about 10% of their brains.
    This myth might have stemmed from a pretentious exaggeration of the notion that humans are far from achieving their potential, or perhaps from the fact that only about 5% of brain cells are functioning at any particular moment.  The human brain simply has too much to do to be 90% dormant.  In fact, MRI imaging shows that humans put most of the cerebral cortex to good use — even while dozing!
  41. Q: The twelfth president of the United States was David Rice Atchison.
    Amazingly enough, this one is technically TRUE!  James Polk's term expired on March 4, 1849, a Sunday.  President-elect Zachary Taylor refused to be sworn in on "The Sabbath", taking the oath of office the next day.  Former Vice-President George Dallas already had resigned his position two days earlier.  Therefore, according to the U.S. Constitution, the legal president for the next twenty-four hours was the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
    Atchison served admirably at his post, by not declaring war on anyone and by not appointing a single crony to office.  Subsequent presidents Hayes, Wilson, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Obama — facing the same 28-year calendar cycle — all took the oath privately on Sunday, then had a public ceremony on Monday.  The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established the inauguration time as noon on January 20, without exception.  The fact that this (inane) problem in timing is officially addressed and specifically circumvented serves as validation of Mr. Atchison's presidency.
  42. Q: "Play it again, Sam" is from the movie Casablanca.
    There was no such line in the 1942 film.  Ingrid Bergman said, "Play it, Sam.  Play 'As Time Goes By.'"  Humphrey Bogart said, "You played it for her; you can play it for me.  If she can't stand it, I can.  Play it!"  In 1972, Woody Allen did produce a movie titled, "Play It Again, Sam".
  43. Q: Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
    According to legend, in 64 a.d. Nero started a fire near the imperial palace, then climbed atop a tower and played the fiddle as the city went up in flames.  Although it is possible that he sometimes strummed a lute or lyre, historical accounts show that Nero was thirty miles away during the conflagration, at his villa in Antium.  Moreover, he reacted to the event with uncharacteristic responsibility, by organizing relief efforts, setting up emergency shelters, and providing cheap grain to victims.  In any case, the fiddle wasn't invented for another fourteen centuries!
  44. Q: Being in a higher tax bracket is bad.
    Occasionally one hears somebody mouthing a complaint about a potential increase in income putting them into a higher bracket.  This negative reaction indicates a virtual ignorance of the way that U.S. income taxes are levied.  Apparently the perception is that if one's total income were to be increased, all such monies would be taxed at a higher rate; yet a cursory examination of any tax table shows that not to be the case.  Only any additional income stretching into a new bracket would be subject to a higher tax rate.  This means that the more you make, the more you keep irrespective of your actual income.  Being in a higher bracket always means that one is better off.  I want one of those.
  45. Q: Hawaii is America's westernmost state.
    The Hawaiian island of Niihau lies at approximately 160° longitude.  Assuming that your car could float, and you were to drive due north on that coordinate, eventually you would come to Alaska.  Continuing up into the mainland, you would find yourself over 100 miles east of the coastal community of Nome.  Moreover, you would still be more than 1,000 miles east of the terminus of Alaska's Aleutian Islands.
  46. Q: Mice like cheese.
    Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, funded by the Stilton Cheese Makers' Association, have found that, although the average mouse's diet consists primarily of grains and fruit, it prefers foods with a high sugar content.  The creatures turn up their noses at something as rich and smelly as cheese.  A possible exception is Norwegian brown cheese, which contains a lot of sugar.  Perhaps the myth originated in Norway!
  47. Q: There is no mention in the Bible of Adam and Eve eating an apple.
    TRUE!  Although the actual text differs somewhat among the various versions of the Bible, no fruit was specified; the message is something such as, "... ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil".  Northern Europeans apparently misinterpreted the Latin word malum meaning 'apple' as a noun, or 'evil' as an adjective.  There is a ground swell of modern support for the notion that, even if this fanciful accounting actually occurred, the fruit most probably was a pomegranate, which, unlike the apple, is indigenous to the presumed location of the Garden of Eden.
  48. Q: Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
    In fact, lightning favors certain spots, particularly high locations.  The Empire State Building, for example, is struck about 25 times per year on average.  Ben Franklin knew the facts long ago, when he constructed the first-ever lightning rod atop his own home.
  49. Q: The summit of Mount Everest is the land point farthest from the center of the earth.
    Due to the fact that the earth is oblong in shape (see #35), objects on the equator are farthest from earth's center-point, and those at the poles are closest.  Although the top of Mount Everest is the highest above sea level, the summit of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is more than 7,000 feet farther from earth's center.  Oddly enough, however, Chimborazo isn't even the highest mountain in the Andes!
  50. Q: Chinese Checkers originated in China.
    The game as we know it was invented in Germany in 1893 under the name "Stern-Halma" or "Star-Halma" as a variation of the older game Halma, in which the players' pieces are initially placed in triangular arrays in the corners of a 16x16 square board.  In 1928 an American firm published the game as "Hop Ching Checkers", then quickly changed that to Chinese Checkers solely to make the name sound exotic.  The game was actually introduced to China by the Japanese!  Go figure.
    Interestingly enough, although Halma is played primarily in Europe, it was invented by American professor Dr. George Howard Monks in 1884, who derived the idea from a British game, Hoppity.  Monks's father-in-law, Harvard President Dr. Thomas Hill, coined the actual name from the Greek word for "jump".  Halma is the only 19th Century internationally known game to have originated in the United States.
  51. Q: The quote, "Beam me up, Scotty" is from the original Star Trek series.
    That phrase never was uttered on the television show.

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