Best of 2014

What were the top posts of 2014 here at “Questions that Need Answering”? Well, it depends who you ask… We’ll start with the posts most popular with readers, then I’ll throw out some of my own personal favorites…

Most Popular Posts of 2014

#1 – Is Bing really as good as Google? Apparently, I’m not the only one that thinks Bing is a joke. At least we can take Microsoft execs seriously, though! I kid you not… Microsoft is a professional organization.

Google vs Bing Comic

Well, we know what the internet cartoonists think… (Image credit: owlturd.com – yes, you read that right.)

#2 – What’s the pink stuff in my shower / tub / toilet / sink? Frankly, this is borderline click bait. I should be ashamed of myself. “A local housewife found a disgusting secret in her bathroom. You’ll never guess what it was…”

Pink Stain

Credit: North Dakota State University Agricultural Extension

#3 – What goofball decided “A Few of My Favorite Things” was a Christmas song? Yeah, I think people are pretty mad about this one too…

Maria's not an asset to the abbey. Or your Christmas playlist.

Maria’s not an asset to the abbey. Or your Christmas playlist.

#4 – Why are there colored dots on my soda can?

Soda Can Dots

#5 – How do you beat that stupid game at Cracker Barrel? If you’ve eaten there, you’ve wondered this.

Cracker Barrel Game

“Leave four or more’n you’re just plain ‘eg-no-ra-moose.'”

My Personal Favorites

#1 – How much dirt would it take to bury Cary, NC? A serious quantitative answer to an absolutely pointless question. Because who wouldn’t want to turn their hometown into a mountain of dirt? This one had me dusting off my GIS skills (no pun intended) and doing some serious computational work.

Cary_Under_Dirt

Image Credit: Ethan Kan

#2 – Are stores really decorating for Christmas earlier than they used to? I slogged through 80 years of New York Times articles to find the answer to this question… If we use the date that the Christmas Tree is put up in Rockefeller Center as a proxy for when big business decorates for Christmas, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’!

Rockefeller Tree Graph

#3 – What’s the best Pass the Pigs strategy (Part 2)? In which we learn how to create an artificial intelligence engine capable of playing a perfect game of Pass the Pigs. It’s not useful at all, but it’s a great way to learn a little bit about probability, programming, and artificial intelligence.

Pass the Pigs

Image Credit: Larry Moore

#4 – How much energy is stored in American body fat? Another completely useless mathematical exercise. It’s gross, it’s math-heavy, and it’s a lot of fun. (Of course, another option here would have been to ask how much soap Tyler Durden could make with it…)

Fat Energy Graph

Let’s be honest – this is pretty gross.

#5 – Is Newton’s Folly Hard Cider just Woodchuck with a different label? I don’t always drink cider. But when I do, I research its origins thoroughly.

Woodchuck vs. Newton's Folly

2014 Odds and Ends

With 2014 coming to a close, I thought I’d do a bit of a year-end recap. Here’s a few questions with super-interesting answers that weren’t quite meaty enough to merit a full blog post. Enjoy!

  • Did some woman really microwave her poodle in an attempt to dry it off? Nope, urban legend. People have microwaved pets, but only out of cruelty – not stupidity. Since thinking about people torturing dogs is sad, here’s some exploding eggs to cheer you up…
  • Speaking of microwaves, some people think microwaving food kills the nutrients. Is that true? No. But yes, too. It’s complicated. Generally speaking, cooking food by any method results in a loss of nutrients. This is why, for example, it’s healthier to eat raw vegetables than it is to eat cooked vegetables. But is microwave cooking especially bad? Nope. Research suggests that microwaving is no worse than any other cooking method and that, if anything, it might be slightly better due to the decreased cooking times involved! Nuke on!
  • Is Jesus coming back at the Davis Drive exit off of I-40? Nope! The bright lights you’re seeing are a result of Syngenta’s new high-tech greenhouse. The company, which specializes in high-tech crops, has built a $72 million dollar greenhouse facility capable of simulating the growing conditions of any climate in the world. If they’re simulating, say, the Sahara desert… things can get pretty bright around Davis Drive at night.
  • Speaking of high-tech crops… GMO crops are bad for you, right? It’s possible, given the fact that we don’t know all of the health effects involved. (But, then, we don’t know all of the health effects involved in eating asparagus, either.) However, there is currently no scientific evidence to support the existence of adverse health effects. In a 2012 summary report, the American Medical Association concluded, “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.” You can take the tinfoil hats off now.
  • What happens when people with hyphenated last names get married? Things get messy. NPR covered this one pretty well.
Hyphenated Name E-Card

Awwww… being PC is so romantic!

  • Do the Russians really like my blog? I’ve been getting lots of Russian readers for my blog! And they’re all coming to my page from sketchy Russian sites like www.darodar.ru! Or at least that’s what it looks like in my Google Analytics reports. Turns out, nobody from Russia has visited. At all. Instead, the “traffic” is a result of Russian bot-nets spamming random Google Analytics account numbers with referral-traffic beacons in an attempt to get unsuspecting webmasters to visit the aforementioned sketchy Russian sites…
Putin Drinking

“This Dayne fellow…” “Indeed!”

  • What do the stars on the uniforms of Cracker Barrel employees mean? As a very nervous new recruit explained to me one day, they represent levels of training. Cracker Barrel gives their employees a lot of training, and tests them every couple of months to see if they’re ready to move up a level. Employees that have just started get an apron that says “Rising Star.” As they complete training, they get a uniform with one star, then two. Four is the highest number of stars a Cracker Barrel employee can have.
Cracker Barrel Apron

Joseph’s got four stars. What a stud!

Finally, to wrap up the 2014 Odds and Ends post… the one question that I haven’t yet been able to answer! Why does UNC-Chapel Hill hyphenate their name, while other UNC system schools (e.g., UNC Greensboro) do not? If you know the answer, get in touch!