What Really Happened To Michael Rockefeller

His catamaran overturned on a river in New Guinea in 1961. He made it to shore, where he met travellers from a nearby village. Descendants of the villagers tell what happened next, and they have the bones to prove it: “Pep speared him in the ribs. They rowed him to a hidden creek where they killed him and made a big fire”. The Dutch colonial government heard the story from missionaries, but hushed it up (8,400 words)

Richard Petty, King of Nascar

Hymn to the Pontiac Grand Prix driven by Richard Petty, Nascar’s seven-time champion, now in the collection of the American History Museum. “It is coarse and loud and ill-mannered. It is a red, white and blue insult to civility and aerodynamics. It is a 630-horsepower brick through America’s living-room window … Slow to anger and hard to turn, but capable of straight-line speeds well north of 200 miles per hour” (700 words)

Albert Camus Is A Stranger To Algeria

Camus was born in Algeria, spent much of his life there, and set two of his most famous novels there: The Plague and The Stranger. But, on the centenary of his birth, Algeria has all but forgotten him. He was on the wrong side of history. “Despite his revulsion toward French colonial prejudices and his sympathy toward Arabs, Camus believed until the end of his life that Algeria must remain part of France” (4,390 words)

Golden Arches Of McModernism

The McDonald’s aesthetic. “In the early 1950s Richard and Maurice McDonald hired architect Stanley Clark Meston to design a drive-in hamburger stand that carried on the traditions of roadside architecture established in the 1920s and 1930s. In an age before ubiquitous mass media advertisements, the building was the advertisement. Meston made the entire building a sign specifically designed to attract customers from the road” (1,360 words)

Gut-Wrenching Science

Report from pepper-eating contest in Nagaland, India, home of world’s hottest chillies. Here’s what happens to a man who eats five: “Zozam rolls onto his back, arms splayed and palms up. He’s making sounds that are hard to transcribe. Mostly vowels. After a minute he rolls back onto his side and raises his head to retch. A doctor prepares a hypodermic of dicyclomine”. The winner eats 14, and doesn’t feel too well either (2,517 words)

Life In The City Is One Giant Math Problem

The emerging study of quantitative urbanism contends that many aspects of modern cities can be modelled using mathematical formulas. For example: If the population of a city doubles, each inhabitant becomes on average 15% more productive. “Give me the size of a city in the US and I can tell you how many police it has, how many patents, how many AIDS cases, just as you can calculate the life span of a mammal from its body mass” (7,714 words)

Decoding The Range: The Secret Language Of Cattle Branding

One of those “I never knew that!” pieces, full of quotable facts. Branding dates back to ancient Egyptian times. In the American West, letters with added wings are called “flying”; those lying sideways are “lazy”. Same brand can be registered by different owners of the country so long as it is on different parts of the cow. Brand protection lapses if you don’t pay your taxes. One Texas rancher refused to brand: his name was Maverick (873 words)

A Cure For Bedbugs

New York’s long nightmare is over. “For years, people in Eastern Europe’s Balkan region have known that kidney bean leaves trap bedbugs, like a natural fly paper … In 1943, a group of researchers studied this phenomenon and attributed it to microscopic plant hairs that grow on the leaves’ surface, entangling bed bug legs.” Knowledge lost in World War II. The method works. Now scientists are developing synthetics with the same properties (1,000 words)

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