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Scientist And Mob Idol

Profile of Albert Einstein, “a mental Hercules, according to those who know his work”. Once reclusive, “he has developed into a mixer, a wit, an authority on things in general” since moving to America in 1930. Nobody can truly understand his theories, but they fascinate the public, as shown by “the famous Einstein riot at the American Museum of Natural History, where movies purporting to explain relativity were being shown” (2,808 words)

Grandmaster Clash

“One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.” Brooklyn-born Fabiano Caruana, 22, scored “the highest tournament performance rating of all time”, 8.5 points out of a possible 10, at the Sinquefield Cup at St Louis. His seven wins and three draws included one win and one draw against world champion Magnus Carlsen, two years his senior; Caruana rises to world number two (6,400 words)

The Family That Couldn’t Say Hippopotamus

Recent genetic research is challenging Chomsky’s conjecture that the human brain contains a specific organ configured for using language. The gene which appears to determine competence in language is “relevant to multiple mental abilities and is not strictly a language gene at all”. The language instinct is probably linked to a more general development of cognitive capacities, and dependent on culture (1,700 words)

Life In Timbuktu

Timbuktu, “city of gold and ancient centre of learning”, is returning to dust. The deserts are encroaching, the canals are drying up. There are sand dunes where mango trees once grew. Thousand fled when Islamic rebels occupied the city in 2012-13. Things are scarcely better with rebels gone. The Malian government scarcely functions. Smuggling and trafficking gangs run the economy. “It’s like the Wild West here” (2,866 words)

Dude, Where Are My Socks? Pick of the day

All about Taobao, China’s super-efficient online marketplace where you can buy or sell just about anything from anywhere — live scorpions, moxibustion kits, a pony, Marmite, a fake Tom Cruise head, snail mucus cosmetics. Taobao picks up from sellers, delivers to buyers, settles payments and rates transactions. Here’s how it all works, through the prism of a single order for a pair of tie-dye socks (2,130 words)

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